24 Turkish soldiers killed in attack by Kurdish rebels

Following border attack, Turkish commandos crossed 3-4 km into northern Iraq in pursuit of rebels; Erdogan, Davutoglu cancel trips abroad.

October 19, 2011 11:09
2 minute read.
Turkish President Gul arrives in southeast Turkey

Turkey Iraq border region 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

DIYARBAKIR - Kurdish militants killed 24 Turkish soldiers near the border with Iraq on Wednesday, officials said, in one of the deadliest attacks since the rebels took up arms against the Turkish state three decades ago.

Turkish commandos crossed 3-4 km (1.9 to 2.5 miles) into northern Iraq in pursuit of the rebels following the attacks in Cukurca and Yuksekova districts of Hakkari province, military sources said. At least 16 soldiers were also wounded in the attacks.

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The sources said there were sporadic clashes between the troops and Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels in the border area, while helicopter gunships overflew the site.

Turkish media reported Turkish warplanes, which have launched retaliatory air strikes on Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq after past attacks, had taken off from a base in the city of Diyarbakir.

Underlying the gravity of the situation, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately canceled a visit to Kazakhstan and convened an emergency meeting with the interior and defense ministers, along with intelligence chiefs and top generals.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also canceled a planned trip to Serbia on Wednesday.

President Abdullah Gul said: "The struggle will continue until this terror is ended and everything will be done to finish the job." He said military commanders were traveling to the area.

Turkey's armed forces could not be reached for comment. The PKK did not immediately claim responsibility for the attacks.

Kurdish rebels seeking an independent Kurdish homeland took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have died in the conflict. They have bases in northern Iraq from which they cross the border to attack Turkish targets.

The PKK is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The attacks came after the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, had said that a resumption of peace talks depended on Turkey's attitude.

Ocalan sent a message though his brother after a meeting in his cell on a prison island south of Istanbul, a PKK statement released on Tuesday said.

"At this stage, the key is in the hands of state authorities, not ours. Negotiations will continue and everything could change in the coming process if they open the door," Ocalan said in his first message in months.

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