The Turkish military says 33 Kurdish rebels and eight soldiers were killed during an operation Sunday in northern Iraq. The Turkish army says it has killed 112 Kurdish Workers Party rebels since the start of its incursion into Northern Iraq, last Thursday. Dorian Jones reports for VOA from Istanbul the rebels dispute the claim and say they have killed 43 soldiers.
Turkish jets taking off from bases close to Iraqi border are reportedly hitting targets deep into Northern Iraq. The strikes, along with attacks from helicopter gun-ships, are in support of land forces attacking Kurdish Workers Party bases in northern Iraq.
Turkish media reports say Turkish soldiers were parachuted close to the Kandil Mountains on Iraq-Iran border. Kandil is the location of one of the largest rebel bases.
Independent verification of the conflicting casualty reports is impossible because of the mountainous and sparsely populated region where the fighting is taking place.
A spokesmen for the Kurdish Workers Party, known as the PKK, says there is intense fighting and claimed a Turkish helicopter was shot down, Turkish authorities acknowledge its lost, but refuse to confirm it was because of enemy fire.
A Turkish military spokesman was quoted as saying the rebels are in disarray and fleeing south.
In Turkey, thousands of people attended the funerals of the first Turkish soldiers killed in the incursion, many chanting anti-PKK slogans
Despite the mounting death toll, support in the country appears to remain strong for the operation.
But the intensification of fighting is leading to increasing diplomatic pressure on Turkey to swiftly end the incursion. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he hopes Turkey keeps its operation short and precise.
But Ankara appears resolute in continuing the incursion.
The Turkish military says up to 3,000 rebels are using the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdish enclave as a base to launch attacks against its forces. The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast since 1984. Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, addressing a meeting of party supporters, expressed his government's determination to continue the operation.
"We are all united against this terror threat," he said, "but we will never target our friends the Iraqi people, our only target is the PKK terror."
But Mr. Erdogan is aware that with everyday the fighting continues in Iraq, international pressure will mount on his government to end the incursion.