Turkish planes hit rebel targets in Iraq

Other News Materials 16 December 2007 14:03 (UTC +04:00)

( AP ) - Turkish warplanes hit Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq early Sunday, Turkey's military said, the first such attack since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. An Iraqi official said the planes attacked several villages, killing one woman.

Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek urged Kurdish separatists to surrender and said Turkey would press ahead with operations against rebel bases in northern Iraq "with determination when necessary."

The attack came a month after the United States promised to share intelligence with Turkey about the Kurdistan Workers Party, which seeks autonomy for the Kurdish minority in southeastern Turkey and has hideouts in northern Iraq.

But the U.S. and Iraq have urged Turkey to avoid a major operation against PKK bases in northern Iraq for fear of destabilizing the most stable region in the country. Turkey has massed tens of thousands of Turkish troops along the border with Iraq amid a series of attacks by Kurdish insurgents.

The fighter jets hit rebel close to the border with Turkey and in Qandil mountain further away from the frontier, the military said in a statement on its Web site. It said the operation was directed against the PKK and not against the local population.

All planes returned to their bases safely and the army continued firing on the targets with long-range weapons, the military said. Artillery units fired shells toward Iraq from the town of Cukurca , where the borders of Turkey, Iran and Iraq meet, footage from the private Dogan news agency showed.

Private NTV television said some 50 warplanes were involved in the airstrikes , taking off from bases in eastern and western Turkey.

It was Turkey's first confirmed attack with fighter jets against rebel targets across the border since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Last month, Iraqi officials said Turkish helicopter gunships attacked abandoned villages inside Iraq.

A top Iraqi official said Turkish warplanes bombarded 10 Kurdish villages, killing one woman and injuring two others.

Abdullah Ibrahim , a top local official in the administrative center of Sangasar , acknowledged that there were Kurdish rebel bases in the area, but said they were far from the villages that were hit.

"The villagers are now scared and are hiding in nearby caves. They lost all their properties," Ibrahim said.

An Iraqi army officer with the border guard said the attack began about 2:30 a.m. on three villages in Iraq's Qandil mountain chain, where Turkish and Iranian Kurdish rebels are based. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

The villages are scattered in the Qandil mountains, some as far as an hour's drive apart over steep roads and paths. The region that was attacked was about 105 miles from the Turkish border.

The Turkish military vowed to press ahead with operations against the PKK "according to military needs with determination."

Earlier this month, the military said it fired on a group of about 50 to 60 PKK guerrillas inside Iraqi territory, inflicting "significant losses."

Turkish forces have periodically shelled suspected rebel positions across the Iraqi border, and have sometimes carried out "hot pursuits" - limited raids on the Iraqi side that sometimes last only a few hours.