DIYARBAKIR, TURKEY (REUTERS, AFP) - A total of 18 people were killed in a car bomb in south-eastern Turkey on Sunday (Oct 9), among them eight civilians, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said.
"The attack was perpetrated by a suicide bomber who detonated a van with five tons of explosives," Yildirim told a press conference in Istanbul. Earlier reports had put the toll at nine dead.
Another 26 people - 10 soldiers and 16 civilians - were injured in the blast in Hakkari province which was blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the official news agency Anadolu said.
Sources said the blast hit the Durak gendarmerie station, 20km from the town of Semdinli, in a mountainous part of Hakkari province near the border with Iraq and Iran, where Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants are active.
The privately owned Dogan news agency said the explosion occurred during vehicle searches on the road in front of the police station.
Soldiers looked on as locals wandered amid mangled wreckage and debris from the explosion at a checkpoint where vehicle searches are conducted, video footage on CNN Turk showed.
The blast left a gaping hole in the road which was 10-15 metres wide and up to seven metres deep, offi cial news agency Anadolu reported. It also caused major damage to the main gate of the security post.
Soon after the attack, the military confirmed it had begun a large-scale air operation.
Over the past two months, the military says it has killed a total of 387 PKK militants in Hakkari province, CNN-Turk reported.
The authorities were on high alert for possible attacks on Sunday, 18 years to the day since PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan fled Syria before being captured by Turkish special forces in February the following year.
He has since been in prison on an island near Istanbul.
On Saturday, a man and a woman whom the authorities suspect were PKK militants preparing a car bomb attack, detonated explosives and killed themselves near the capital Ankara in a stand-off with police.
Violence has flared in Turkey's south-eastern Kurdish heartland in recent days. On Saturday, 12 people were killed, including eight PKK fighters.
Four civilians were killed by gunfire from an armoured police vehicle in the town of Yuksekova near the Iranian border.
On Thursday, a bomb attack near a police station in Istanbul wounded 10 people. The Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), a PKK offshoot, claimed responsibility for that blast.
The PKK, which launched a separatist insurgency in 1984, is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. The 32-year conflict has left nearly 40,000 people dead.
A two-year ceasefire between the group and the Turkish authorities collapsed in July last year and the violence subsequently rose to levels not seen since the height of the conflict in the 1990s. Since then, more than 600 security forces and over 7,000 PKK militants have been killed, according to Anadolu.
The surge in violence coincides with a Turkish military operation in northern Syria in support of rebels and designed to drive away from the border Islamic State (ISIS) militants and a Syrian Kurdish militia closely linked to the PKK.
Over the past 15 months, attacks on the Turkish security forces have continued on an almost daily basis as the government has pressed military operations against the PKK to rid urban areas of fighters.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus described Sunday's attack as an "atrocious" and "terrorist attack", vowing on Twitter that Turkey would never surrender to militant groups.
President Tayyip Erdogan chaired a security summit with the head of the armed forces and ministers in Istanbul on Saturday, but details of the meeting have not been disclosed.