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June 27, 2017

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Hitting PKK in northern Syria dangerous for Turkey: analysts

ISTANBUL -- Turkey this week cranked up its already heated rhetoric against Kurdish militants in northern Syria, saying it would not hesitate to go after PKK fighters, just as it has in northern Iraq.

Analysts warn such a move would be dangerous for Turkey and further complicate Syria's deadly conflict and the volatile regional situation.

"If you implement a hot pursuit against the PKK militias in northern Syria, the government in Syria will react very differently from the Iraqi government," Osman Bahadir Dincer of the Ankara-based USAK think tank said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday said it was a "given" that Turkish troops would pursue fleeing Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants inside Syria if they struck Turkey.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara and by much of the international community, took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.

Turkey regularly bombs suspected Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq, with both Baghdad and the government in the autonomous Kurdish region forced to accept the military strikes.

Relations between the former close political allies Turkey and Syria have disintegrated as Ankara has lashed out against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's bloody response to the ongoing uprising against his rule, which so far has led to the deaths of about 19,000 people since mid-March 2011.

The relationship soured further after Syria shot down a Turkish jet on June 22.

Though Syria is facing isolation from many Western powers, analysts warn that Turkish military action in Syria risks the wrath of some of the country's powerful allies.

"If Turkey brings soldiers onto Syrian soil by itself and not as part of an international operation, it would be an open provocation to Russia and Iran," said Cengiz Candar of the daily Radikal newspaper.

Hurriyet daily news writer Semih Idiz said any military operation would be doomed to lead Turkey into "new and unwelcome adventures, which will not only ruin the ongoing rapprochement with Kurdish northern Iraq, but also aggravate the Kurdish problem in Turkey."

Analysts say Turkey must stick with diplomacy and work with the region's Arab Sunni tribes, which hold sway over the largely Sunni Kurdish population.

"They have an influence on these people, so if Turkey can cooperate with these Arab Sunni tribes then we can cut the influence of PKK and PYD on the territory," Dincer said.

The PYD, or Kurdish Democratic Union Party, is a Syrian Kurdish group close to the PKK.

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