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ISTANBUL —The leader of Turkey's militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, has met his lawyers for the first time in eight years, one of them said on Monday.
"This is the first meeting with the lawyers since 2011. The meeting lasted approximately one hour" on May 2, Rezan Sarica told an Istanbul press conference.
Some 3,000 Kurdish prisoners have been holding hunger strikes since November to protest his isolation, and eight have killed themselves over the issue, according to the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party.
Nevroz Uysal, another of Ocalan's lawyers, read out a message from the imprisoned leader for the hunger strikers to limit their protests.
"We respect the resistance of our friends inside and outside prisons but want them not to carry this to a dimension that will threaten their health or result in death," Ocalan said, according to Uysal.
Ocalan's message also addressed the situation in neighboring Syria where a US-backed Kurdish militia — branded as "terrorists" by Ankara — controls some areas in the north.
"We believe that problems in Syria should be resolved by avoiding the culture of conflict," Ocalan said according to the lawyer.
He said the Syrian Kurds should have constitutional guarantees, while respecting "Syria's integrity."
"In this regard, Turkey's sensitivities should be taken into account," he added.
Ankara says the Kurdish YPG — a key US ally in the fight against Islamic State jihadists — is a Syrian offshoot of the PKK, and the issue is a major source of friction in Turkish-US ties.
Turkey captured Ocalan, then public number enemy one, in February 1999 and imprisoned him on the heavily fortified island of Imrali off Istanbul where he has been kept for 20 years.
"It is not yet clear if the meetings with lawyers will continue periodically," added Sarica, who met Ocalan with Uysal.
"Only two lawyers were allowed to meet him although four lawyers applied," he added.
The PKK is listed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies. The Kurdish insurgency in Turkey has claimed more than 40,000 lives since 1984.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hardened his rhetoric towards Kurdish rebels since the last ceasefire broke down in 2015, reducing the odds of a political solution to the long-running conflict.
Ocalan's brother, Mehmet, was permitted to visit him in prison in January for the first time since 2016.
The rebel leader was born into a poor peasant family in the village of Omerli in Turkey's southeast. His official birthdate is April 4, 1949.
He was sentenced to death for treason after his capture by Turkish agents in Kenya, but this was commuted to life imprisonment when Turkey abolished capital punishment in 2002, when it appeared close to securing membership in the European Union.