19 dead in latest op against Kurdish rebels

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iol pic wld car bombing - turkey REUTERS File photo - Officials work at the scene of an explosion in the southeastern Turkish town of Gaziantep.

Diyarbakir, Turkey -

Eighteen Kurdish rebels and a Turkish soldier have been killed in Ankara's latest operation against Kurdish separatists in the country's south-east, local security sources said on Friday.

Thousands of ground troops, police forces and village guards are participating in the operation, which was launched late on Wednesday in the mountainous area in the Sirnak province near the Iraqi border.

Helicopter gunships, F-16 fighter jets and ground troops are targeting rebel hideouts in the region, the stronghold of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and sources said jets have also bombed rebel hideouts inside Iraq just across the border.

Ankara launched the offensive after a spike in deadly Kurdish rebel attacks that have claimed dozens of lives in recent months across Turkey.

Late on Sunday, rebels armed with rocket launchers and machine guns attacked a security complex in the region at Beytussebap, which lies about 40 kilometres from the Iraqi border, triggering a firefight that left 30 people dead, 10 of them soldiers.

Some government officials believe that Syria's embattled regime is helping the PKK in retaliation for Turkey's support for rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

The PKK, considered a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45 000 lives. - Sapa-AFP

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