Bomb blast kills five in Istanbul

Four killed by bomb in Istanbul, Israel plans to demolish 22 homes in East Jerusalem, UK death toll in Afghanistan reaches 300 and Belarus threatens to siphon gas.
Patricia Rich
22 June 2010

A road-side bomb in Istanbul has killed five people, including an eighteen-year-old girl and injured twelve others, as a bus carrying military personnel passed by this morning. Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, many believe that the PKK – the Kurdish Workers Party – are behind the bombing. The incident comes amidst rising tensions and increasing violence in the southeast of Turkey between the army and the PKK.

Last month, the PKK stated they had given up all hope of dialogue with the Turkish government, on Saturday, twelve of their fighters were killed in clashes with Turkish troops, and yesterday Turkey began a major military deployment on its border with Iraq. This recent surge in violent incidents comes after the PKK announced the end of a unilateral ceasefire which had lasted a year, accusing the Turkish military of provocative attacks and the government of obstructing a political solution.

The PKK have been engaged in an armed struggle with Turkey since 1984, fighting for an independent Kurdish state in the south east of the country where there is a Kurdish majority, although recently they have reduced their aims from independence to autonomy. Since the armed conflict began in the 1980s, over 40,000 people have been killed. The passage of rebels between Turkey and Iraq has led to the deployment of Turkish military personnel along the border. The Turkish military claim that since March they have suffered 43 deaths and have in turn killed 120 rebels.

The openSecurity verdict: Turkey voted against the recent UN resolution to enforce further sanctions on Iran and their deteriorating diplomatic ties with Israel following its raid on a aid flotilla traveling to Gaza has further heightened a rift with the US, contributing to which, among other factors, is the perception that northern Iraq has been made a safe-haven for Kurdish militants following the US intervention. Yesterday, however, the US ambassador to Ankara called the PKK “a common enemy of both Turkey and the US” and stated that the US was willing to “review urgently any new requests from the Turkish military of government regarding the PKK”. He also stated that there had been no change with regard to the sharing of intelligence on PKK activity in northern Iraq. NATO’s secretary-general said that there was “no justification” for the recent “terrorist attacks”.

The PKK are deemed a terrorist organisation by a number of states and international organisations including the US, UN, NATO and EU - according to the Turkish police they are an active secessionist terrorist organisation. Last year, the Turkish government stated that it was committed to a new initiative to address the grievances of the Kurdish minority in the country, however, this recent increase in violence comes as the PKK claim that the government and military have been committed to offensive attacks and never produced their promised package of concessions. Turkey’s, so-called “soft approach” seems to have been abandoned with the government returning to a military response to the escalating conflict, seen in Prime Minister Erdogan’s promise to fight the rebels until they are “annihilated”.

As violence and tensions rise in the south east of Turkey, along the Iraqi border and into the north of Iraq, one has to question whether a military approach aimed at eradicating the PKK can be successful. Whether the PKK’s dismissal of political processes is the best way to reverse Kurds' cultural, political and economic marginalisation is equally questionable. The US and NATO’s support of the Turkish government’s actions against the PKK, whom they define as terrorists, may well serve to ease diplomatic relations with Turkey in the short term but do not necessarily work in the service of processes of peace in the region. Despite lower levels of violence than the rest of Iraq, the Kurdish region is far from stable, and a vicious crackdown either side of the Turkish-Iraqi border could spell the end of an even nominally unified Iraq and draw regional powers, including Iran and Syria, into the conflict.

Israel plans demolition of 22 homes in Jerusalem

Initial approval has been granted for the demolition of 22 Palestinian homes in the Silwan neighbourhood of East Jerusalem in order to make room for a tourist centre. The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, has been criticised by government officials, including the defence minister, Ehud Barak, who said “the Jerusalem municipality and the planning committee have shown a lack of common sense and sense of timing – not for the first time”, although he stopped short of condemning the policy itself, noting only that “the King’s Garden project, which has been awaited for 3,000 years [since the time of King David], can wait another three to nine months if the state’s policy considerations necessitate it”. A spokesperson for Barkat responded by openly condemning the defence minister, stating that he should check “the facts first”. The prime minister’s office released a statement which seemed to express support in principle for the demolition of the houses, which it claimed were “built on public land in violation of the law”, and a hope that “an agreed upon solution will be found that will keeps in line with the law”.

While Jerusalem’s municipal authority claims that the plan for Silwan will allow for the “addition of thousands of apartments for the Arab sector”, many Palestinians see the move as an attempt to “fast-track Judaisation” of East Jerusalem. Activists in Silwan claim that this policy serves to deny the possibility of Jerusalem being a shared city which “in itself precludes peace”. Spokesperson for the US state department PJ Crowley stated that the US is “concerned” about the decision, going on to say that “this is expressly the kind of step that we think undermines trust that is fundamental in making progress”.

Israel has come under increasing pressure in recent months; the US has openly condemned Israel’s policy of building settlements and after the flotilla raid the blockade of Gaza has come under increasing international criticism. While Martin Nesirky, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, yesterday called Israel’s policy announcement regarding Gaza a “welcome development”, this move will no doubt cause more questions to be asked about Israel’s commitment to engaging in processes to resolve this conflict.

UK death toll in Afghanistan reaches 300

The 300th UK soldier has died in hospital from wounds received in Afghanistan. Prime Minister David Cameron stated that “the 300th death is no more or less tragic than the 299th that came before but it is a moment, I think, for the whole country to reflect”. The number of troops who have lost their lives in Afghanistan has raised questions about the number and necessity of British troops in the country. Cameron has called this a “crucial year”, as public support for the British presence in Afghanistan wanes. Lieutenant General Sir Nick Parker said “each fallen comrade, each injured comrade is a tragedy... but we mustn’t let that effect the way that we implement this plan because the plan is working”.

Belarus could siphon gas bound for Europe

Russian energy company Gazprom has claimed to have received a letter from Belarus’ first deputy prime minister, Vladamir Semashko, threatening to siphon gas bound for Europe. Belarus confirmed that it had sent this letter demanding that Russia pay $217 million in transit fees. The dispute comes after Russia cut gas supplies to Belarus by 30 percent, claiming that Belarus had failed to pay $200 million for gas supplies. Belarus says it will pay $187 million to Russia upon receiving the money they believe they are owed in transit fees, Igor Sechin, Russia’s deputy in charge of energy, said yesterday that Belarus has until Friday to pay the new sum of $270 million. Marlene Holzner, European Commission energy spokeswoman, said that Lithuania, Poland and Germany were the countries likely to be effected. The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashento, has called the situation a “gas war” and “ordered the government to cut the transit via Belarus until Gazprom pays”.

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