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Turkish fighter jets attack rebels in northern Iraq

From Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert, CNN
  • NEW: Attack comes in retaliation for apparent ambush that killed 8 Turkish soldiers
  • The Kurdish PKK party has claimed responsibility for a series of deadly attacks
  • Turkish PM hints at offensive after the end of Ramadan

Istanbul (CNN) -- Turkish fighter jets attacked rebels from the Kurdish Workers Party Wednesday in northern Iraq in retaliation for an apparent ambush earlier in the day that killed at least eight Turkish soldiers, the semi-official Anatolian News Agency reported.

The F-16s took off from the air force base in Diyarbakir and returned after launching strikes in the Qandil Mountains, the prime minister's office said, according to Anatolian.

Turkish media outlets also reported air attacks on positions held by the Kurdistan Workers Party, known by the acronym PKK, in Zap regions in northern Iraq.

The attacks came after the apparent ambush on a highway in a restive part of southeastern Turkey.

Anatolian reported the troops were killed after Kurdish rebels allegedly attacked a military convoy with a series of four explosive devices placed on the highway; at least 11 soldiers were wounded.

Rebels from PKK have claimed responsibility for a series of attacks over the last month, including a Saturday ambush near the southeastern province of Sirnak that killed at least three soldiers. In a statement e-mailed to CNN, the PKK also claimed responsibility for last week's sabotage of a natural gas pipeline between Turkey and its eastern neighbor Iran.

These rebel strikes, as well as a battle last month that left at least 13 Turkish soldiers dead, have raised fears of an escalation in the long-simmering war between the Turkish state and Kurdish separatists.

At a dinner breaking the Ramadan fast on Tuesday with families of slain soldiers, Turkey's prime minister warned that "a new period is starting" in the conflict, which has claimed more than 30,000 mostly Kurdish lives over 27 years.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted at the possibility of a fresh military offensive at the conclusion of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, a scenario that has been the subject of much speculation in the Turkish media.

"Preparations for professional staff to be stationed in hot areas are almost complete in its final stages," Erdogan told television cameras on Tuesday. "Our police forces with all their trained personnel have taken part and will take part in this struggle ... our citizens will see the elimination of this murder network."

PKK fighters have long maintained training camps and bases in Iraq. Over the last decade, the Turkish military has repeatedly sent troops and warplanes to attack suspected PKK targets in these rugged border regions, where the Iraqi government has been unable to establish its authority.

Tensions have mounted between the Erdogan government and the country's main Kurdish nationalist political party in recent months, despite earlier government initiatives aimed at improving relations with the Kurds, Turkey's largest and long-oppressed ethnic minority.

After winning a larger number of seats in June 12 parliamentary elections, the main Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party boycotted the swearing-in ceremony for lawmakers.

Kurdish lawmakers are still protesting a decision by Turkey's electoral board, which disqualified a prominent Kurdish candidate from participating in the June 12 election. Politician Hatip Dicle was barred from running due to a 20-month prison sentence he received for "making propaganda for a terrorist organization," a Turkish reference to the PKK.

CNN's Talia Kayali contributed to this story.