Turkey's military said Tuesday air strikes on suspected Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq this week have killed an estimated 90 to 100 guerrillas and warned that it would press ahead with offensives against the group both inside Turkey and across the border.
The military said in a statement posted on its website that than 80 separatist rebels were injured in six days of cross-border air raids that began on Wednesday, hours after eight soldiers and a government-paid village guard were killed in an ambush by the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, near the border with Iraq.
"According to initial information obtained, between 90 and 100 terrorists were rendered ineffective, more than 80 wounded terrorists were moved to hospitals or villages, and contact with a high number of terrorists was cut," the military said. "Rendered ineffective" is a term used by the military to refer to rebels killed.
"Iraq's north and domestic areas will be monitored for separatist terrorist activity and air and ground operations will continue," it said.
The military said targets hit included 79 shelters and hideouts, 18 caves, eight depots, 14 PKK buildings or facilities, one ammunition depot, nine anti-aircraft gun positions and three rebel road blocks.
The rebels have denied any losses, insisting that areas hit by the Turkish warplanes were long-abandoned bases. The PKK said Tuesday that the military's claim of the number of rebel deaths was a "baseless fabrication."
"By giving these false numbers, the Turkish army commanders are trying to raise the spirits of their soldiers and to create more pretexts to continue their war against civilians," PKK spokesman Ahmet Deniz said.
Iraqi Kurdish authorities have reported that seven civilians, including children, were killed while trying to escape the raids.
The Kurdish and central Iraqi governments have been extremely hesitant to criticize Turkey for the airstrikes. Turkey is one of Iraq's main trading partners, and even some people in the Kurdish region do not support the rebels' violent struggle.
But some Kurds have been angry that their government hasn't taken a strong stance against the Turkish incursion, which they consider an infringement on Iraqi sovereignty.
"Both the stances of the Kurdistan and Baghdad governments is weak and far from firm. (Prime Minister Nouri) al-Maliki's government is too weak to stand against Turkey," said Saman Ahmed who participated in recent protest in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah against the airstrikes.
Turkey's military on Tuesday insisted that all targets were carefully pinpointed through repeated reconnaissance flights before being hit.
"Targets hits were determined following detailed analyses that were verified several times and were included on the list of targets only after it was established with certainty that they were not areas inhabited by civilians," it said.
The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, is fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict since 1984.
The rebels have long used northern Iraq as a base for hit-and-run attacks on Turkish targets. Some 40 soldiers have been killed in escalated PKK assaults since July.
Turkey has carried out a number of cross-border air raids and ground incursions over the years but has failed to stop rebel infiltration through the mountainous border.
The previous offensive was last summer, when warplanes launched a series of raids on suspected PKK positions and ground troops took part in a daylong incursion.
AP writer Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq contributed.