Warplanes and ground troops reportedly raid Iraqi territory to target separatists.
“I think it is pretty difficult to say troops shouldn’t [invade] when the Turkish soldiers are being killed, and their villages attacked”
Celtic, Karlstad, Sweden
In a separate incident, Turkish troops killed more than 30 PKK fighters who were preparing to attack a military unit near the border with Iraq, the Turkisk military said in a statement on its website.
The army said it had spotted a “crowded group of terrorists” near a military outpost on Tuesday in the province of Semdinli close to the border with Iraq and fired on them with tanks, artillery units and other heavy weaponry.
It said the group was preparing for an attack and that the troops had kept firing on the group as they escaped towards the Iraqi territory.
The report increased the number of PKK fighters killed since Sunday to at least 64, according to military figures.
Ankara has massed as many as 100,000 troops along the mountainous border ahead of a possible cross-border operation to engage about 3,000 PKK fighters who it says are using northern Iraq as a launchpad for attacks on Turkey.
Iraqi, Turkish and US diplomats have stepped up efforts to avert a large-scale Turkish incursion, but Gul said Nato-member Turkey would not tolerate more PKK attacks from Iraq.
Speaking at an economic conference in Ankara on Thursday, Gul said: “We are totally determined to take all necessary steps to end this threat… Iraq should not be a source of threat for its neighbours.”
“Although we respect the territorial integrity and unity of Iraq, Turkey is running out of patience and will not tolerate the use of Iraqi soil for the purpose of terrorist activities.”
The US is keen to avert major Turkish military action in northern Iraq, fearing it would destabilise not only the most peaceful part of that country but potentially the wider region.
“[The US] may not want us to carry out a cross-border operation. But it is we who will decide whether to do one or not,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, told reporters during a visit to Romania on Thursday.
Early on Thursday, F-16 fighter jets took off from the airport in Diyarbakir, the largest city of Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast region.
It was not known where the planes were heading.
An Iraqi Kurdish security official said a Turkish warplane had bombed a Kurdish village on Wednesday but gave no details of any damage.
In a visit billed by Turkish officials as “a final chance” for diplomacy, an Iraqi team led by General Abdel Qader Jassim, Iraq’s defence minister, and including members of northern Iraq’s Kurdish administration was due in Ankara later on Thursday.
The Baghdad government has promised to shut down PKK camps but Ankara is aware that the central Iraqi government has little influence in the autonomous Kurdish north.
Turkish newspapers on Thursday accused Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish leaders of dishonesty and unreliability for promising much and delivering virtually nothing.
They were especially angry with Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s president, a Kurd, whom Turkish officials quoted on Wednesday as saying Baghdad might hand over PKK rebels to Turkey.
Talabani’s office later denied he said this.
Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, is due to visit Turkey on November 2 to November 3 to try to reduce tensions between Turkey and Iraq.
Erdogan is also expected to meet George Bush, the US president, in Washington on November 5.
The Turkish prime minister said: “As a strategic ally of Turkey, the United States has to act together with Turkey. We acted together with them in Afghanistan.
“We must take and we will take steps against terrorism both on a national and an international level.”