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http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=2&article_id=89357

Turkey stepped up its offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq on Wednesday and refused to set a pull-out timetable, despite a US warning that the incursion should last no more than "a week or two." The military said 77 members of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were killed overnight in what they called the heaviest clashes since its forces rolled over the border into the snow-bound mountains of northern Iraq last week.

That brought the army toll of PKK dead to 230, while its own losses climbed to 27 with the deaths since Tuesday evening of five soldiers and three government-armed Turkish Kurd "village guard" militiamen, the general staff said.

As fighter-bombers continued to pound rebel positions on the sixth full day of the incursion, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates made it clear that US support for its NATO ally was not open-ended. The offensive must end quickly, he said.

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The United States has backed the offensive, supplying Turkey with intelligence on PKK movements, and said the Turkish military had acted "responsibly so far."

But Washington is wary of the prospect of conflict between Turkish forces and the Kurdish administrators of northern Iraq - two key US allies with chilly ties.

Turkey has long accused the Iraqi Kurds of providing the PKK with a safe haven, weapons and ammunition. The military warned the Iraqi Kurds this week not to shelter PKK rebels fleeing the fighting.

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"The Turkish danger is looming large. They are coming with their canons, guns and planes," said Juthiar Khalil, 25, of Qimary village along the border with Turkey as he sat with nine of his friends around a small stove in a grocery shop.

  • AFP