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Turkish warplanes strike suspected Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq

Turkish warplanes strike suspected Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq

Turkish warplanes hit eight suspected Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq on Wednesday, the third cross-border air assault in 10 days, Turkey's military said.
The warplanes struck in an "effective pinpoint operation" targeting eight caves and other hideouts being used by rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, the military said in a statement posted on its Web site.
The military launched the operation after spotting a group of rebels preparing to spend the winter in those hideouts, it said. No rebel deaths were immediately reported.
In Iraq, Jabar Yawar, the deputy minister of the Kurdistan regional government's Peshmerga forces, said Turkish planes had carried out a half-hour raid near the border, starting at 8:30 a.m. (0530GMT) Wednesday morning.
"Because the areas were deserted, there were no civilians casualties," he said.
Turkey's military said Tuesday that more than 200 Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq have been hit since Dec. 16, and hundreds of rebels killed.
The U.S., the European Union and Turkey consider the PKK, which has waged a war for autonomy in parts of Turkey for more than two decades, a terrorist organization. The fighting has cost tens of thousands of lives.
President Abdullah Gul on Wednesday praised the United States for its support of the operations. The U.S. has been providing intelligence to Turkey on the Kurdish rebels since a Nov. 5 meeting between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President George W. Bush, who said the rebel group was an enemy of the U.S., Turkey and Iraq.
The U.S., Iraq and Turkey "share a common enemy in the PKK," said Phil Reeker, U.S. Embassy spokesman in Baghdad. "We have a common interest in stopping the work of this organization. ... But these are Turkish decisions," he said, adding that "we will continue to watch this situation closely."
A coordination center has been set up in Ankara so Turks, Iraqis and Americans can share information.
"We are in a cooperation that befits our alliance with the United States," CNN-Turk television quoted Gul as saying. "They are pleased (with the cooperation) and so are we."
"When we look at the whole picture, things are going well," he was quoted as saying in reference to the cross-border operations.
Of Wednesday's raids, the military said: "It was observed that a large group of terrorists who were being watched by the Turkish Armed Forces for a long time were preparing to spend the winter ... in eight caves and hideouts."
"Turkish warplanes have struck the mentioned terrorist group targets with an effective pinpoint operation as of the morning of Dec. 26," the statement said, adding that the military was determined to continue its operations against the rebels.
The strikes were the third aerial operation confirmed by the military since Dec. 16. The military also has confirmed that it sent ground troops to hunt down the rebels on Dec. 18. Iraqi Kurdish officials said the ground operation involved about 300 soldiers and lasted 15 hours before the soldiers returned to Turkey.
Other hideouts and anti-aircraft weapons were struck in a cross-border air assault on Dec. 22, followed by artillery fire from inside Turkey.
On Wednesday, Istanbul mayor Kadir Topbas said traditional New Year celebrations at a main city square were canceled this year out of respect for soldiers killed in recent PKK attacks and those currently fighting the rebel group.
"We had made preparations for Taksim Square, however, we have so many martyrs," Topbas told reporters. "At this moment in the southeast region, we have soldiers fighting in the mountains in terrible weather conditions."
Also Wednesday, a woman died in hospital from wounds suffered in a small bomb explosion in Istanbul the day before, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. Six other people were also injured in the blast. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but Kurdish rebels and militant Islamic and leftist groups are active in the city.