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Turkish warplanes, troops strike Kurdish positions in northern Iraq

Turkish warplanes, troops strike Kurdish positions in northern Iraq
Turkish soldiers stand next to coffins covered by Turkish flags, as part of a funeral ceremony Sept. 8 in Van for soldiers killed two days earlier in an attack in Daglica. (Deop Photos / AFP/Getty Images)

Dozens of Turkish warplanes bombed northern Iraq early Tuesday and special forces troops briefly crossed the border in pursuit of Kurdish fighters after a weekend ambush left at least 16 Turkish soldiers dead.

The assault was Turkey's most lethal against the insurgents since peace talks between the two sides broke down nearly two months ago.

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About 50 warplanes strafed 20 Kurdish positions and resupply points in Iraq, a sustained operation beginning late Monday night and continuing for about six hours, local media reported.

Sunday's attack against Turkish troops involved synchronized mine blasts targeting armored vehicles and an ensuing shootout in the town of Daglica, deep in Turkey's southeastern mountains.

"These terrorists must be wiped out from the mountains; whatever happens, they must be wiped out," said Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during televised remarks in Ankara following that attack. "The mountains of this country must not be handed over to terrorists"

Three years of peace talks between Turkish officials and the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, aiming to end a 30-year insurgency broke down following an Islamic State suicide bombing in the border town of Suruc in late July.

Since then, violence has escalated steadily throughout Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast, with clashes, ambushes and arrests.

On Tuesday, Kurdish militants killed another 14 soldiers near a remote eastern border gate, raising the number of security personnel killed over the last six weeks to about 100.

The PKK, which is seeking greater self-determination for Turkey's Kurdish minority, is deemed a terrorist group by the U.S. as well as Turkey.

The latest attacks have been led by Kurdish youth groups angered at what they say is a history of state-sponsored repression.

Rights groups have reported numerous violations by Turkish security personnel, including destruction of property and summary executions. Hundreds of fighters have been killed, as well as civilians.

"The situation is dreadful," said Tayyup Canan, from the prominent Human Rights Assn., reached by phone in the city of Yuksekova. "Communications to Daglica have been cut."

On Monday, a 12-year-old girl in the restive city of Cizre was allegedly shot through the chest, with Kurdish activists alleging that she died at the hands of a police sniper. More than 100 neighborhoods have been declared closed security zones.

Meanwhile, Turkish nationalist anger following Sunday's attack on the soldiers continued to rise, causing tensions to flare across the country.

About 120 offices of the Democratic Party were assaulted Monday, with nationalists burning posters from the pro-Kurdish party, which entered parliament for the first time in June.

Protesters on Tuesday also marched through a predominantly Kurdish neighborhood in Ankara, the capital, reportedly setting cars ablaze and pelting homes with stones.

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A crowd stormed the offices of Turkey's leading newspaper, Hurriyet, smashing windows and accusing the paper of misrepresenting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's statements about Sunday's attack.

The U.S. Embassy in Ankara condemned the incident, which was led by a prominent member of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party.

The turbulence has sent the Turkish lira plummeting while raising concerns for the security of national elections scheduled for Nov. 1.

Johnson is a special correspondent.

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