ISTANBUL — The imprisoned leader of the Kurdish rebels will be allowed to meet with family during an upcoming Islamic holiday, Turkish authorities announced Saturday.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reports that Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, has been granted permission to see his brother Mehmet Ocalan during Eid al-Adha.
The festival started Saturday, but the timing of the visit was classified.
Ocalan has been held in at a maximum security prison on the island of Imrali south of Istanbul since his arrest in 1999. He enjoyed limited visitation rights while the PKK and the government engaged in peace talks, but those minimal visits ended in April 2015 as the peace process faltered.
Hundreds of security force members, militants and civilians have been killed in clashes between the PKK and the security forces since the two-year peace process collapsed a few months later.
Ocalan’s last visitors, this past April, were members of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture or CPT. His isolation has been a source of contention between Ankara and Kurdish militants.
Rebels linked with the PKK cited it as the motivation for a deadly attack in late August. A Kurdish suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden truck into a checkpoint near a police station in the southeastern town of Cizre, killing at least 11 police officers and injuring nearly 80 other people.
Last week, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, warned that tensions would escalate further if Ocalan were not heard from soon. A hunger strike was called by some HDP supporters to protest Ocalan’s isolation.
The private Dogan news agency reported Saturday that MP Nadir Yildirim, speaking for the protesters in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir, said the announcement of the Ocalan family visit was not sufficient to end the hunger strike. He added that HDP members would continue the strike until a member of Ocalan’s family, one of his lawyers or an HDP delegation met with the rebel leader and was able to personally vouch for his health and safety.
The PKK is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its allies. Some 40,000 people have been killed since the armed conflict between the party and the government started in 1984.
On Friday, Turkey’s interior ministry announced the government would take over the running of 28 municipalities, ousting elected mayors and other administrators accused of links to the Kurdish rebels.
The announcement came a day after the country’s education ministry suspended as many as 11,285 of its personnel, including teachers, because of suspicions they may be linked to the PKK. The dismissals have led to renewed accusations that the government is using a failed coup last month to engage in a witch-hunt against critics and opponents.
Since hostilities between the government and the PKK resumed last summer, more than 600 Turkish security personnel and thousands of PKK militants have been killed, according to the Anadolu Agency. Human rights groups say hundreds of civilians have also been killed.