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Turkey: Airstrikes hit Kurd guerrillas in Iraq

/ Source: The Associated Press

Turkish warplanes attacked Kurdish rebels in Iraq's north on Tuesday, killing a group of guerrillas gathered at a mountain cave, the military said.

The Turkish strikes, which a pro-Kurdish news agency said were followed by shelling from Iran, came two days after bombs planted in an Istanbul neighborhood killed 17 people. The government blamed Kurdish rebels, who denied involvement in the deadliest attack on civilians in five years.

The military said in a statement Tuesday that warplanes attacked rebel targets in northern Iraq, where the leadership of the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, is based. The statement said many of a 40-strong rebel group outside a cave at Mount Qandil were killed.

"Many of the terrorists outside the cave and an unknown number of others inside were neutralized," the statement read. The military often uses the phrase "neutralized" to refer to slain rebels.

Ahmed Deniz, a rebel spokesman in northern Iraq, said by telephone that the Turkish bombing lasted over an hour but he claimed there were no casualties or serious damage.

Firat News, a pro-Kurdish news agency, said the bombing was immediately followed by shelling by Iranian forces. Turkey's military has said Turkey and Iran at times coordinate strikes against Kurdish rebels who use bases in northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks on their countries.

PKK rebels, who seek autonomy for Turkey's Kurds, have fought the Turkish state since 1984 in a war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. In recent months, Turkish warplanes have repeatedly attacked suspected rebel positions in northern Iraq, and launched a weeklong ground offensive there in February.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appealed for unity after the main opposition leader called for a mass rally to protest the attacks in Istanbul. Monday's appeal by Deniz Baykal, a fierce opponent of Erdogan, reflected national outrage over the deadliest attack against civilians in Turkey in five years.

"Millions of our people should loudly condemn this," Baykal said, recalling huge gatherings in Spain in protest of 2004 Madrid train bombings, which killed 191 people and injuring more than 1,800.

'Stand together against terrorism'
He offered no specific date or venue for the demonstration.

"Anyone who wants what's best for this country should wisely stand together against terrorism after putting aside their differences," Erdogan told fellow party members in the Parliament. He did not refer to Baykal's call for a demonstration.

Baykal, head of the Republican People's Party, has accused the Islamic-oriented government of trying to undermine secular principles in the constitution. Turkey's top court is currently deliberating on whether Erdogan's ruling party should be banned for allegedly trying to steer the country toward Islamic rule.

The 11 judges of the Constitutional Court began hearing the case against the ruling Justice and Development Party on Monday. Some legal experts have said the court could rule this week, while others said a decision is most likely in early August.

Shutting down the ruling party, which won a strong electoral mandate last year, could force quick elections and unsettle markets. It could also damage ties with the European Union. Erdogan is eager for Turkey to join the EU, a position he says shows the party does not have a hidden Islamic agenda.