Turkey’s president Abdullah Gul has vowed “great vengeance” for the deaths of at least 26 Turkish soldiers killed by Kurdish rebels in Hakkari province in southeastern Turkey, according to the interior ministry.

The deaths occurred in two separate ambushes – one in Cukurca and the other in the district of Yuksekova overnight on Tuesday to Wednesday. Another 16 people were injured.

Turkish forces said they killed 16 Kurdish militants in a fierce gun battle.

No-one should forget that those who make us suffer this pain will be made to suffer even stronger, Gul told reporters. They will see that the vengeance for these attacks will be great.
In retaliation Turkish troops have now crossed into northern Iraq to hunt down rebel leaders in their mountainous base. Turkish military have also commenced a crackdown on Kurd rebels and sympathizers, accompanied by aerial bombing raids of suspected rebel hideouts in Iraq.

We have been clashing with the Turkish forces in two areas since around 03:00, Dostdar Hamo, a spokesman for the Kurdish rebel group, told Associated Press by telephone.

It is believed to be the deadliest attack on Turkish security forces since 1993, according to BBC.

The Ankara government said the killings occurred in clashes at police and army posts in the region.

Gul had recently visited the region in order to upgrade the morale of Turkish troops amidst an apparent escalation of violence.

Just one day before, five Turkish policemen and three civilians were killed in a blast in the southeastern city of Bitlis.

Since May, the violence between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has intensified, with dozens of deaths reported on both sides of the conflict. The PKK is demanding more autonomy for Turkey’s heavily Kurdish southeast.

However, the battle between Turkey and its restless Kurd minority has raged on for decades – costing the lives of tens of thousands of people since 1984, when Kurdish groups commenced a coordinated series of attacks against the new civilian government in Ankara.