Turkish air strike kills 35 Iraqi civilians

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The Independent Online

A Turkish official has confirmed that 35 people killed in Turkish air strikes in Iraq were civilians working as smugglers whom the military mistook for Kurdish rebels.

A ruling party spokesman Huseyin Celik said yesterday that the victims "were not terrorists" but people smuggling cigarettes into Turkey from Iraq.

Mr Celik said officials were investigating possible intelligence failures that led to the strikes. He expressed regret for the deaths and suggested the government would compensate the victims.

Earlier, the military said its jets had struck an area of northern Iraq frequently used by the rebels to enter Turkey after drones detected a group approaching the border.

The civilian death toll is one of the largest incurred on a single day during the military's 27-year-old drive against rebels, who are fighting Turkey for autonomy in the mostly Kurdish south-east.

It is also the latest example of how the government's efforts to grant cultural and other rights to aggrieved Kurds have been eclipsed by escalating violence this year.