( AP ) - Turkey's military may stage more cross-border operations into northern Iraq to hunt down separatist Kurdish rebels, Turkey's parliament speaker said Thursday, as the justice minister again urged the rebels to surrender.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan thanked the Turkish armed forces, calling their operations successful, and said Turkey was at an important stage of its fight against the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, who are based in northern Iraq.
Turkey, which has massed thousands of troops along the border, sent hundreds of them across into the mountains of northern Iraq on Tuesday. It said it inflicted heavy losses on Turkish Kurd rebels in a small-scale incursion that lasted about 15 hours - and in air strikes by as many as 50 fighter jets on suspected rebel hideouts two days earlier.
"The Turkish armed forces will carry on with these operations whenever they are needed," parliament speaker Koksal Toptan said Thursday.
Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin said, "I hope the members of the terrorist group understand that they cannot achieve their aim by fighting the security forces."
"They should come and give themselves up to the merciful hands of the state. They should rejoin their mothers, their fathers and relatives and live in peace as a citizen of this country," he said.
The government has said it plans to expand an amnesty law that pardons rebels who leave the PKK voluntarily and who have not been engaged in fighting.
The rebels have battled for autonomy in southeastern Turkey for more than two decades and use strongholds in northern Iraq for cross-border strikes. Turkey has said it can no longer tolerate the attacks on its troops, and in October Turkey's Parliament authorized the country's military to strike back at the rebels inside Iraq.
Tuesday's raid was the first confirmed Turkish ground operation targeting rebel bases inside Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003, though about 1,200 Turkish military monitors have operated in northern Iraq since 1996 with permission from local authorities.
The incursion was not a large-scale push that some feared could destabilize a relatively calm part of Iraq.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that more than 1,800 people fled their homes in parts of Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdistan last weekend, and Iraqi officials have complained that Turkey's actions are a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. They have also said they recognize the threat posed by the PKK.