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    Turkish army says at least 44 PKK terrorists killed, Barzani warns Ankara (UPDATED)

    Hurriyet English with wire dispatches
    23.02.2008 - 10:18 | Son Güncelleme:

    Turkish General Staff said late Friday at least 44 PKK members were killed in the ground operation launched on Thursday night, as the U.S. repeated its support to Turkey's right to fight with PKK. The head of the regional Kurdish government in Iraq warned Turkey.

    Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said Turkey will face large-scale resistance if it targets civilians in the operation. Barzani’s office warned in a statement that the regional government would not stand by if the Turks struck civilians and it will not be a part of the conflict between the Turkish government and the PKK.       

    Turkish General Staff said in a statement on Friday that 24 terrorists were killed and several others were injured in clashes between terrorists and security teams. It also estimated that at least 20 other terrorists were neutralized by helicopters. Five Turkish soldiers died in these clashes.

    The statement said a group of terrorists escaped to the southern part in the clash. The operation "merely targeted terrorist organization", it reiterated. "Cross-border operation that was launched by Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) against terrorist organization PKK in the north of Iraq as of 7 p.m. on February 21st, 2008 continues as it was planned," the statement said. Hideouts of terrorists were shelled by artillery and armed helicopters, it added.

    The Turkish parliament authorized the government in October to send troops to northern Iraq to combat PKK based in mountain camps there, from which they conduct deadly attacks in Turkish territory. Since December 16, Turkey has conducted several air raids and one limited land incursion into Iraq to prevent a PKK unit from infiltrating Turkey. Turkey has been taking real-time intelligence assistance from the U.S.                          

    In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday the U.S. continued to express absolute solidarity withTurkey over the fight against PKK, however, stability and progress for Iraq is in the interest of Turkey.                         

    "We have been in contact with the Turkish Government at several levels and we continue to express our absolute solidarity with Turkey about the PKK. This is a common enemy of the United States and Turkey. It is also an enemy of the Iraqi people  and the Iraqi Government, because the Iraqi territory cannot be used for terror -- should not be used for terrorist attacks against Turkey" she replied when reporters asked whether the U.S. was concerned about the operation. The operation should be of the shortest duration possible, Rice added.

    ONE SOLDIER KILLED IN MINE BLAST    
    As Turkey's ground operation in northern Iraq continues, a mine blast killed one soldier and injured another one on Saturday in the in the southeastern province of Bingol.

    Heavy fighting and artillery fire continued late into the night Friday as Turkish troops fought PKK members near their bases in the mountains of northern Iraq, local residents told AFP on Saturday.

    Villagers in the area said they heard sustained exchanges of automatic fire in the Hakurk and Sidekan regions, on the Iraqi side of the border across from the Turkish town of Cukurca, as fighter planes and helicopters flew reconnaissance missions throughout the night, according to AFP.

    LESS THAN A THOUSAND
    The Iraqi government said on Saturday that less than 1,000 Turkish troops had crossed the frontier to carry out operations against PKK hiding in a mountainous border region.

    Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Turkish commanders had assured the Iraqi government that the "operation will be a limited one and it will not violate certain standards that they have set. They are targeting several PKK fighters and the Turkish troops are taking care of this," he added.

    Turkish television said between 3,000 and 10,000 soldiers had entered Iraq, but several Iraqi officials and a military source with U.S.-led coalition forces in Baghdad said only a few hundred troops were involved.

    The senior military source told Reuters two brigades made up of around 8,000 troops had taken part in the offensive. The General Staff did not specify the size or length of the surprise operation, given the poor weather conditions.

    Iraq's Kurdish region, usually one of Washington’s closest friends in the region, on Saturday attacked the United States for green-lighting a Turkish incursion onto its territory.

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