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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Turkey Closes In on Rebels

ANKARA -- Turkish troops, backed by air support, closed in Tuesday on some 300 Kurdish rebels on the fourth day of a major offensive in southeastern Turkey which has already claimed at least 129 lives, the Anatolia news agency said.

"Operation Hawk" was launched Friday night by the military, taking advantage of warming weather and a one-sided cease-fire by Kurdish rebels.

The casualties, 102 rebels and 27 soldiers including two officers, were the highest since the rebels declared the cease-fire in December.

Clashes were taking place in a triangular area near the towns of Lice and Kulp in Diyarbakir province and Genc in Bingol province.

"We were waiting for the terrorists to gather in one spot," General Ismail Hakki Karadayi, the chief of staff, said.

The guerrillas of the illegal Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, have been fighting for autonomy in the southeast for 12 years. The fighting has claimed over 20,000 lives.

Saying they wanted to give the Turkish government a chance to review its Kurdish policy, PKK leaders proclaimed the cease-fire, but Ankara declined to go along with the truce, arguing it was only called by the PKK to allow the rebels to regroup.

The offensive came amidst pledges by the new government to solve the Kurdish problem via non-military means.

Premier Mesut Yilmaz, sworn in early last month, pledged to lift martial-law-like emergency rule in the region, help the local economy and take steps to lift the bans on education and broadcasting in the Kurdish language.