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Kurdish rebels kill 26 soldiers in southeastern Turkey | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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DIYARBAKIR, (Reuters) – Kurdish militants killed 26 Turkish soldiers near the border with Iraq on Wednesday, officials said, in one of the deadliest attacks since the rebels took up arms against the Turkish state three decades ago.

Turkish commandos crossed 3-4 km (1.9 to 2.5 miles) into northern Iraq in pursuit of the rebels following the attacks in Cukurca and Yuksekova districts of Hakkari province, military sources said. At least 16 soldiers were also wounded in the attacks.

The sources said there were sporadic clashes between the troops and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels in the border area, while helicopter gunships overflew the site.

Turkish media reported Turkish warplanes, which have launched retaliatory air strikes on Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq after past attacks, had taken off from a base in the city of Diyarbakir.

Underlying the gravity of the situation, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan immediately cancelled a visit to Kazakhstan and convened an emergency meeting with the interior and defence ministers, along with intelligence chiefs and top generals.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also cancelled a planned trip to Serbia on Wednesday.

President Abdullah Gul said: “The struggle will continue until this terror is ended and everything will be done to finish the job.” He said military commanders were travelling to the area.

Turkey’s armed forces could not be reached for comment. The PKK did not immediately claim responsibility for the attacks.

Kurdish rebels seeking an independent Kurdish homeland took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have died in the conflict. They have bases in northern Iraq from which they cross the border to attack Turkish targets.

The PKK is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The attacks came after the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, had said that a resumption of peace talks depended on Turkey’s attitude.

Ocalan sent a message though his brother after a meeting in his cell on a prison island south of Istanbul, a PKK statement released on Tuesday said.

“At this stage, the key is in the hands of state authorities, not ours. Negotiations will continue and everything could change in the coming process if they open the door,” Ocalan said in his first message in months.

Erdogan’s AK Party government has passed cultural and political reforms favouring ethnic Kurds aimed at ending a violence fed by Kurdish grievances. Breaking a long-held taboo, Erdogan’s government held secret talks with Ocalan.

But following escalating violence from PKK rebels that have killed more than 50 Turkish security personnel since July, the government has taken a harder line.

The attacks came amid tensions with neighbouring Iran over the siting of NATO anti-missile radar in Turkey and over the strong position Turkey has taken against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

In the past week, Turkish media have carried reports that Iran had captured the second in command of the PKK, Murat Karayilan, only to release him after Turkish airstrikes on the base where the militant commander had been.

Iran has also been battling Kurdish militants on its border with Iraq, and Kurds in Syria hold long-standing grievances against Assad.