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7 soldiers killed in Kurdish rebel attack near Turkey's border with Iraq
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) ' Kurdish rebels ambushed a military convoy near Turkey's border with Iraq on Wednesday and killed seven soldiers, Turkish officials said, vowing strong military retaliation.
More than 30 Turkish soldiers have died in intensified rebel attacks since July, including one that killed 13 service members in July, leading to a major military offensive in southeastern Turkey.
State-run TRT television reported that the military immediately launched an air force-backed ground offensive on Wednesday in the largely Kurdish Hakkari province, where the latest attack occurred.
Details of the strike were sketchy, but the Hakkari governor's office said the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, detonated four roadside bombs as a military convoy was passing by, killing seven soldiers and wounding 11 others.
NTV news channel said the insurgents, who are fighting for autonomy, attacked the military unit with bombs and automatic rifle fire on a highway in Hakkari. The unit was on its way to conduct an operation against a group of rebels who had earlier detonated a roadside bomb in an attack on another military unit, the station said, citing unidentified officials in the region.
NTV said a squadron leader was among the dead.
Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz initially said eight soldiers were killed in Wednesday's attack. But the governor's office later lowered the death toll to seven.
"What is it that they are doing? It's oppression, it's threats, it's terrorism," he told reporters. "The retaliation they will find will be manifold stronger."
Dismayed that attacks are continuing during the holy month of Ramadan, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week also hinted at tougher military action against the rebels after the end of the month of piety for Muslims, saying Turkey is at the end of its tether.
Some news reports speculated that Turkey is considering renewed cross border incursions into northern Iraq where the PKK maintains bases. Turkey has frequently launched air strikes or sent soldiers across the border to fight the rebels.
The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, is fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.