Fighting between Kurd rebels and Turkish army 'kills 19'

Fighting between Turkish soldiers and outlawed Kurdish rebels killed 19 people near the Iraqi border in the southeast of the country on Sunday, the local governor said.

Six soldiers, two village guards and 11 Kurdish rebels were killed following an overnight rebel attack on an army post in a village in Hakkari province which borders Iraq, governor Orhan Alimoglu told the Anatolia news agency.

Another 15 soldiers were wounded.

The raid on the army post follows similar assaults in the Kurdish-dominated southeast which have prompted the army to launch an all-out offensive against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) bases in the area.

The Turkish ground and air operation, one of the biggest in years, was launched about two weeks ago to drive out the rebels in the town of Semdinli, also in Hakkari province.

About 2,000 soldiers are involved in the offensive, private NTV television reported on Sunday.

"A serious and strong operation is under way in Semdinli," Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said last week.

The PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms in the southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.

Turkey's latest offensive against the PKK comes as Kurds in northern Syria are reported to have taken control of some regions as fighting escalates in the uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Damascus of allowing Kurdish rebels a free hand in the north of the country and warned that Ankara would not hesitate to strike 'terrorists'.

Ankara claims some of the Kurdish rebels in Syria were forced to move there from hideouts in mountainous zone in northern Iraq after the Turkish army staged several air strikes in the area.

The reported control of northern Syria by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the PKK's Syrian ally, has pushed Ankara to take diplomatic and military steps to neutralise what it sees as any potential threat.

Turkey has massed a convoy of tanks, weapons and ground-to-air missile batteries on the border with Syria and staged military drills, which have been seen by the media as a show of force against Damascus.

Ties between one-time allies Ankara and Damascus have soured since Assad's regime launched a brutal crackdown on dissent in March last year.

Relations hit an all-time low after a Turkish fighter jet was brought down by Syrian fire in June, killing its two pilots and leading Ankara to brand Damascus a 'hostile' opponent.

Damascus counters Turkish accusations with claims that Ankara is supporting 'terrorists' to bring down the Syrian regime down, referring to the Free Syrian Army of defecting soldiers which is based on Turkish soil near the border.

Last week, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited northern Iraq for talks with Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani about the situation in northern Syria.

"The new Syria should be free of any terrorist and extremist group or organisation," the two said in a rare joint statement.

Although Turkey has built ties with the Kurdish regional government in the north of Iraq, Ankara is against the idea of a separate Kurdish state.

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