ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish warplanes and attack helicopters have struck Kurdish rebel targets inside Iraq after a rebel attack killed eight Turkish soldiers, Turkey's military said Wednesday — the latest attempt by Turkey to fight off a persistent threat from Kurdish insurgents seeking regional autonomy.
Kurdish rebels attacked Turkish military units with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades Tuesday in southeastern Turkey. The clash — one of the fiercest in several months — left at least 26 rebels dead along with the eight soldiers. The military also said one rebel was captured alive.
Kurdish rebels use northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks on Turkish targets in their decades-long fight for autonomy in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK took up arms in 1984.
Numerous Turkish air strikes and incursions over the past decades into northern Iraq have yielded mixed results as rebels merely return to the sparsely populated and rugged border areas after Turkish troops withdraw.
The military said Wednesday that Turkish jets and attack helicopters have "effectively" struck Kurdish rebel targets across the border in Iraq. It did not elaborate but vowed to fulfill its duties with "determination until achieving results."
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc called on the rebels to "lay down their arms" as thousands of flag-waving Turks flocked to mosques for the funerals of slain soldiers.
The rebels have stepped up their attacks amid efforts by the Turkish government to reconcile with the Kurds.
The government has granted the Kurds more cultural rights, such as introducing elective Kurdish-language courses. Kurdish rebels, activists and politicians, however, insist on full Kurdish education, saying elective lessons fell short of their needs.
The president of Iraq's self-ruled Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, on Wednesday called for an end to fighting between Turkey and Kurdish rebels.
"The time for war and weapons has passed," Barzani told Turkey's state television, which began broadcasts in Sorani, a dialect of Kurdish spoken in parts of northern Iraq and western Iran.
Barzani expressed sorrow over the losses in Tuesday's violence and said the continuation of the fighting would only bring more "bloodshed."
Turkey, by launching broadcasts in different Kurdish dialects, is trying to reach Kurds in and beyond its borders as economic and trade interests have lately improved ties between the Turkish government and political leaders in northern Iraq.
Arinc, however, reiterated Turkey's calls on Barzani to help prevent attacks by Kurdish rebels from northern Iraq.
"We expect from Mr. Barzani to do more in fighting against terrorism," Arinc told the same television program, which Barzani joined live from northern Iraq.
Turkey has in the past asked Barzani to capture and handover rebel leaders who are based on Mt. Qandil deep inside northern Iraq. Barzani in return has urged a political solution as Iraqi Kurdish leaders said they did not have the manpower to fight the PKK.
Associated Press Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.