- Associated Press - Sunday, August 21, 2011

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish airstrikes on suspected rebel targets in northern Iraq killed seven civilians Sunday, Iraqi officials said.

The mayor of the town of Qalat Diza, Hassan Abdullah, and Capt. Ali Mohammed of the Iraqi army’s border guards said seven Iraqi civilians died in an attack near the Iraqi-Iranian border. The two officials said the bodies were charred and dismembered.

Firat, a news agency close to the Kurdish rebels, also said seven people - including five children and a woman - were killed inside a car while trying to flee raids on the village of Golle on Mount Qandil. Earlier, the agency had reported that six people died in the raid, but later raised the number to seven.

Turkish warplanes have been striking at suspected rebel positions across the border in Iraq since Wednesday. The military has confirmed three days of strikes so far, but Kurdish groups also reported bombings by Turkish jets on Saturday and Sunday.

Turkey’s latest offensive follows stepped-up attacks by the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, that have killed some 40 soldiers since July.

Turkey’s military has said the jets are targeting PKK sites only - including shelters, anti-aircraft-gun positions and ammunition depots - showing “the necessary” care not to harm civilians.

The PKK has denied that claim, saying this week’s strikes on Mount Qandil and mountainous areas along the Iraqi-Turkish border have aimed at abandoned rebel bases and have caused damage to civilian-owned homes and land.

The group, considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, is fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict since 1984.

The rebels long have used northern Iraq as a springboard for hit-and-run attacks on Turkish targets. The latest offensive from Turkey began hours after eight soldiers and a government-paid village guard were killed in a PKK ambush near the border with Iraq.

Turkey has carried out several cross-border air raids and ground incursions over the years but has failed to stop rebel infiltration through the mountainous border.