UPDATE: Turkish military kill 49 Kurdish rebels in large offensive

A man holds up a Turkish flag during a demonstration in central Istanbul on October 20, 2011 to protest against the latest attacks against Turkish troops by Kurdish rebels. The Turkish army said it had sent hundreds of troops into northern Iraq to attack Kurdish rebels in response to October 19's ambushes that killed 24 soldiers.

Turkey's largest attack against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in three years has led to at least 49 deaths of Kurdish soldiers, Al Jazeera reports.

Nearly 10,000 Turkish soldiers were sent to southeastern Turkey and across the Iraq border on Thursday, carrying out ground and air offensives against the rebels. Turkish President Abdullah Gül descibed the military offensive as retribution to the PKK-led attack that left at least 24 Turkish soldiers dead, according to the report.

Turkish military officials have not revealed the exact number of soliders that have crossed into the Iraqi borders.

The ethnic Kurds, who do not have an independent statehood, have a history of political disputes against the Turkish government that have claimed more than 40,000 lives since the 1980s.

The NY Times reports: “The attacks came at a time when the country is drafting a new constitution with greater rights for ethnic minorities. The effort is widely perceived as designed to end Kurdish separatist violence."

Turkey’s military officials told Reuters there were sporadic clashes between the troops and PKK rebels between the Turkey-Iraq border.

Russian television channel NTV reported most of the troops were believed to be in Iraq and that Turkish warplanes flew dozens of bombing sorties out of a military base in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Thursday.

“As of now, wide-reaching operations, including hot-pursuit operations, are continuing in the region within the framework of international law,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a news conference in Ankara.

U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the Kurdish attack in a statement issued by the White House. “The United States will continue our strong cooperation with the Turkish government as it works to defeat the terrorist threat from the P.K.K. and to bring peace, stability and prosperity to all the people of southeast Turkey,” President Obama said.