ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - An ammunition blast at a hilltop Turkish army base in the Kurdish province of Hakkari has killed at least seven soldiers and wounded 25 others, the country's authorities confirmed on Saturday.
Defective ammunition caused the massive explosion of arms depots that totally destroyed the base on Friday evening at an altitude of 2100 meters and located on the border with Iraqi Kurdistan.
The soldiers were shelling alleged Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) targets across the border in Kurdistan's Erbil province, state media reported.
At around the same time, Turkish cross-border artillery shelling was hitting a resort area popular with local picnickers and tourists in the Amedi district of Duhok Province, leading to panic among civilians who fled for their lives.
The Turkish judiciary imposed a gag order on media shortly after reports began to emerge, effectively silencing news about the fate of the troops based there.
"We have seven martyrs," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday, confirming the casualties before taking a flight to the French capital of Paris where he was to attend a commemoration of the centennial anniversary of the end of WWI.
Officials had initially reported the seven as "missing." It remains unclear if there are more soldiers unaccounted for.
Four of those wounded were in critical condition, Erdogan revealed.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Army Chief of Staff Yasar Guler later that day visited the "Sungu Tepe" Hill where the blast occurred.
The PKK and the Turkish state are locked in a four-decade-long war over Kurds' demands of autonomy and cultural rights harshly suppressed since the foundation of the republic in the aftermath of WWI. Ankara's Western allies, led by the US and EU, back the Turkish side.
Footage released on social media and recorded by Kurdish-speaking men from across the border showed a tall plume of smoke rising from the Turkish base.
"That was the arsenal," one man can be heard telling another.
"You think soldiers there are killed now?" another asks, then adds, "You saw the kind of fire it flared."
A second video, apparently shot by Turkish soldiers deployed to a nearby military position, captured an enormous ball of fire followed by an ear-shattering boom ten seconds later.
"Oh wow! Oh my God," two conscripts are heard exclaiming.
A third video, shot by a group of troops inside the wrecked base, shows the scene to be one of carnage, with an army truck still on fire as the sun sets over the mountainous region.
"Anybody here? Anybody here?" a soldier can be heard repeatedly screaming as he walks amid shattered concrete walls, fire, and smoke.
"Don't get too close," a second soldier warns. "We don't know how much ammunition and gunpowder are still here."
Editing by John J. Catherine