SULAIMANIYA, Iraq (Reuters) - Turkish warplanes targeting Kurdish rebels bombed northern Iraq on Sunday, killing one woman and forcing hundreds to flee, local officials said.
The Turkish military said it had attacked targets of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) with the approval of U.S. occupying forces in Iraq. The United States said only that it had been informed in advance of the operation.
Turkish ground forces also shelled areas where the rebels were based, an army statement said. Turkey’s NTV television said 50 aircraft had taken part in the three-hour operation.
The Turkish army has up to 100,000 troops near the Iraqi border, threatening a major operation that Washington fears could destabilize one of the most peaceful areas of Iraq.
It was given authorization by the cabinet last month to conduct cross-border operations against the PKK, which uses northern Iraq as a base for attacks inside Turkey.
“In opening Iraqi airspace to this action last night America gave its approval to the action,” the head of Turkey’s General Staff, General Yasar Buyukanit, was quoted by the Anatolian state news agency as saying.
A U.S. embassy official said: “We have not approved any decision, it is not for us to approve. However, we were informed before the event.”
Pro-separatist Roj TV, quoting PKK sources, said five PKK guerrillas were killed in the overnight bombardment.
The death of the woman was the first reported civilian fatality since Turkey stepped up shelling and air strikes on suspected PKK bases in the Qandil mountains in October.
Abdullah Ibrahim, the mayor of Sankasar town north of the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya, said 200 families had fled their homes in villages in the Sankasar and Jarawa administrative areas and at least 10 houses had been destroyed.
Buyukanit denied any civilian targets were hit.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said his government was determined to use every kind of instrument in the fight against terrorism -- diplomatic, political and military.
“We will continue to wage this battle for our nation’s unity and peace, both inside and outside Turkey,” he said.
The air strikes were launched at 2 a.m. (2300 GMT) and continued for several hours, the mayors of Jarawa and Sankasar said. The villages targeted are about 100 km (60 miles) south of the Turkish border.
The mayors said one woman was killed and at least two people wounded. Fouad Hussein, head of the Kurdistan president’s office, confirmed the death and condemned the attack as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hajj Humoud summoned the Turkish ambassador and demanded an end to strikes which “may affect the friendly relations between the two governments and peoples,” the foreign ministry said.
It also said one woman was killed, four civilians wounded and many families displaced.
Turkey said its operations solely targetted the PKK.
“I can categorically state that not a single civilian target, not a single village was hit. Previously identified PKK camps were hit. There is no question of any accident,” Anatolian news agency quoted Buyukanit as saying.
The United States, Turkey’s NATO ally, has begun sharing intelligence with the Turks about PKK movements inside Iraq. Washington wants to avert a large-scale Turkish ground offensive.
Analysts say a major Turkish land incursion is very unlikely right now, since many Kurdish rebels have moved into Iran and weather conditions in northern Iraq are worsening.
Ankara blames the PKK, which seeks a separate Kurdish homeland in southeastern Turkey, for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since it began its armed struggle in 1984.
Additional reporting by Shamal Aqrawi in Arbil and Gareth Jones in Ankara; editing by Myra MacDonald