Rescue teams on Monday sifted through rubble of flattened multi-story buildings to try to reach dozens of people believed trapped after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey.

The Interior Minister said the death toll in the powerful quake has increased to 217.

Hundreds of rescue teams worked throughout the night searching for survivors among dozens of pancaked buildings, as aid groups scrambled to set up tents, field hospitals and kitchens to assist thousands left homeless.

Interior Minister Idris Naim Şahin said about 80 multi-story buildings collapsed in the city of Erciş alone when the earthquake struck Sunday. He said some 40 buildings still had people trapped inside, giving rise to fears that the death toll could increase substantially. The minister did not give any estimates.

"Rescue work is ongoing, especially at buildings where (rescuers) have determined survivors," Şahin said.

The hardest-hit area was Erciş, an eastern city of 75,000 close to the Iranian border and on one of Turkey's most earthquake-prone zones. The bustling city of Van, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of Erciş, also sustained substantial damage. Highways in the area caved in.

Şahin said 117 were killed in Erciş, another 100 died in Vanl; nearly 740 people were injured.

United States scientists recorded over 100 aftershocks in eastern Turkey within 10 hours of the quake, including one with a magnitude of 6.0.

Authorities advised people to stay away from damaged homes, warning they could collapse in the aftershocks. Residents spent the night outdoors and lit campfires, while the Red Crescent began setting up tents in a stadium. Others sought shelter with relatives in nearby villages.

Rescue efforts went deep into the night under generator-powered floodlights. Around 1,275 rescue teams from 38 provinces were being sent to the region, officials said, and troops were also assisting search-and-rescue efforts.

Turkey Spurs into Action to Aid Quake Victims

Search-and-rescue organizations, volunteers, military units and hospital and government workers have all jumped into action to reach the victims of Sunday's earthquake in the eastern province of Van.

"We are very proud of the sudden reflex of our state, which moved into the region and took every necessary measure. I have been in this business for forty years, [but] it is the first time I am seeing such a rapid [response] in Turkey," said Prof. Mustafa Erdik, the director of the Kandilli Observatory and Research Institute.

Numerous engineering vehicles, trucks, ambulances, helicopters and rescue teams from the nearby provinces of Erzurum, Ardahan, Kars, Iğdır and Ağrı are being sent to the area devastated by the earthquake in Van, according to reports.

"All our capacities have been mobilized. We do not yet know the magnitude of the incident or the scope of the damage, except for information that has been relayed [to us]," Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay said. "But we want rescue transport services, aid and shelter needs by taking into account the maximum [possible damage]."

Israel has also offered its support to Turkey, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, instructing the head of the Defense Ministry's diplomatic-security bureau, Amos Gilad, to contact Turkish officials and offer them "any aid that they may need," the Haaretz Daily News reported.

Two C-130 cargo planes and another plane with a capacity for 160 persons from Turkish Airlines were also prepared to send aid materials and rescue personnel to the region, he said.

Three cargo planes were also allocated by the country's chief of staff for use by the Prime Ministry's Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD. Members of the Search and Rescue Organization, or AKUT, sent from the provinces of Bingöl, Erzurum, Trabzon and Giresun have also begun arriving in the region, according to reports.

Another nine search and rescue personnel were sent by the Disaster and Emergency Directorate in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak, while another 30 personnel were sent to Van from Erzurum, according to the province's governor Sebahattin Öztürk.

The Red Crescent has also started efforts to send much needed blood donations to the quake-stricken province.

Israeli Defense Minister Says Turkey Not Interested in Israel's Aid

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said Turkey did not respond positively to Israel's offer for aid after a powerful earthquake struck southeast Turkey in which at least 1,000 are feared dead.

"The Turks are not interested in our aid this time," Barak told Israel's Channel 2, the Jerusalem Post reported on Sunday.

Israel offered aid to its former strategic ally Turkey, and their presidents spoke by telephone on Sunday. It was not immediately clear if the Turkish side rejected the Israeli offer for aid or if Barak was speculating they have not replied.

"At this difficult time, Israel is willing to provide any aid required anywhere in Turkey and at any time," President Shimon Peres told his Turkish President Abdullah Gül, according to a statement issued by Peres's office.

Relations between Israel and Turkey have been frayed since Israeli commandos killed nine Turks during a raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip in 2010.

Tension rose last month when Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel refused to apologize for the killings, saying its marines acted in self-defense.

Peres's conversation with Gül was believed to be the first between the two leaders since the envoy was expelled.

Gül told Peres that Turkey was still assessing the damage from the earthquake and that he hoped Turkish rescue teams could handle the disaster, the Israeli statement said. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel was willing to provide "anything from food, medicine, medical staff and equipment to search-and-rescue teams."

He said Israel was awaiting Ankara's reply.

In southeast Turkey, emergency workers battled to rescue people trapped in buildings in the city of Van and surrounding districts near the border with Iran. A local official said many people were killed or injured and tents and rescue teams were needed urgently.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters on Sunday night, during his visit to Van, that at least 138 people were killed and hundreds are missing or wounded. Officials say the death toll will rise.

"I speak as a person, a Jew and an Israeli who remembers, and is well aware, of the depth of the historic relations between our two peoples," Peres told Gül, according to the statement. "From this place, I send condolences on behalf of all Israel to the families of those killed."

Although Peres's office is largely ceremonial, he is briefed regularly by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on diplomatic affairs.

Israel has sent search-and-rescue teams to Turkey in the past after earthquakes struck. In 1999, an Israeli military rescue team pulled a 10-year-old Israeli girl out of the rubble of a collapsed building in Cirarcik in northwest Turkey, where her family was on holiday. She had been trapped for nearly 100 hours.

The team spent a week in Turkey, rescuing 12 people and recovering 140 bodies. Israel set up a field hospital in the region, where two large quakes that year killed more than 20,000 people, treating more than 1,000 victims.

Commanders to Stay in Southeast Until Anti-PKK Offensive Over

Turkey's chief of General Staff and force commanders who rushed to the country's southeast after the killing of 24 soldiers last Wednesday in a series of attacks by the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, to oversee the ensuing anti-PKK offensive will not return to Ankara until the offensive is successfully completed.

Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and the military's force commanders are still in Hakkari and Özel is personally commanding the air-backed ground offensive that was launched against the PKK along the border and in northern Iraq. General Staff sources say the day the commanders will return has not yet been set.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said on Saturday that the top commanders "pledged not to return to their homes before accomplishing the anti-PKK operation."

The PKK killed 24 soldiers and injured 18 others in simultaneous attacks on Wednesday. The attack was the deadliest PKK attack in 18 years and the fourth deadliest since the PKK started its campaign of separatist violence nearly three decades ago.

The Turkish military immediately took action in retaliation and launched a major offensive against the PKK.

The military operation against the terrorists involves thousands of troops and focuses on both sides of the mountainous Turkey-Iraq border. The General Staff announced that a total of 49 terrorists have been killed during the course of the operation so far, while some news reports claim that over 100 PKK members have been killed.

Turkey's Leading Civil Society Organizations Join Forces Against PKK

A major rally is being planned for Istanbul, with organizers aiming to bring together 1 million people to march against escalating acts of terrorism in the wake of bloody attacks last week, according to an announcement by 24 non-governmental organizations.

The group includes some of the country's most influential business circles and trade chambers representing a broad swath of society.

"We will hold a great march in Istanbul on Oct. 30 under the leadership of professional organizations, confederations of trade unions and associations with the support of our political parties. We will only raise our flag with its crescent and star, the symbol of our unity and integrity," Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, president of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey, or TOBB, said at a press conference Sunday.

The country's civil society, mainly the professional organizations and business circles, have been mobilized after the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, killed 24 troops in the Çukurca province of Hakkari along the Iraqi border in a move to show public resistance to terrorism.

Hisarcıklıoğlu said they have established the "Platform for a Call for Unity" with 24 organizations, but the venue was open for anyone who wanted to take part in the initiative. Along with TOBB, which has more than 1.5 million members, prominent business organization, the Turkish Industry and Business Association, or TÜSİAD, the Workers' Union Confederation, or Türk-İş, the Bars Union, or TBB, and the Turkish Exporters Assembly, or TİM, have joined the platform.

Leaders of these organizations visited President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and all opposition parties on Oct.21 to share their plans to hold the rally.

"We saw that all political leaders in Turkey shares similar sensibilities against terrorism, despite daily political disputes. Their common ground is our unity, integrity and fraternity. This is promising," Hisarcıklıoğlu said. "We invite those who have the same feelings as us to this great march. We will walk altogether despite these dirty games. We invite everyone because it won't happen without you."

It was not yet clear if leaders of the political parties would also take part in the march, but the platform intends to invite all of them. No party banners or flags can be raised during the march, the platform states. Details of the march will be announced this week.

Despite wide representation, the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions, or DİSK, the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions, or KESK, and the Turkish Engineers' and Architects' Chambers, or TMMOB, known to be critical of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, have not joined the platform.

But Hisarcıklıoğlu said they have not excluded anyone.

"We have invited all societal organizations and our invitation is still valid. We want to march arm in arm with everyone," he said. KESK and DİSK officials are reportedly set to discuss joining the platform.

The platform has changed its initial plan to hold simultaneous marches in the country's seven regions, after Gül convinced them that such an initiative could face provocations in some regions, Turkish media reported.

"We have no such fear. We are engaged in this in the name of 74 million people," Hisarcıklıoğlu said, adding that they will act together in every part of the country when required. Another reason for holding only one march is to concentrate the density and public attention on one march only, so that its influence can be multiplied, the Daily News reported.

Turkey Targets Kurdish Rebels with Airstrikes

Turkish forces on Saturday pounded Kurdish rebel positions on the third day of a major offensive as officials said they had killed 49 insurgents in the mainly Kurdish southeast.

"A total of 49 terrorists were rendered ineffective over the last two days," said the General Staff in a statement posted on its Web site.

The operation was carried out in the southeastern Hakkari province, the statement read.

The Turkish military launched air and land operations against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, after the separatist group's guerrillas killed 24 soldiers and wounded 18 along the Iraqi border on Wednesday, the army's biggest losses since 1993.

Some 10,000 troops on the ground are involved in Turkey's operations, backed by jets and helicopters, inside Turkey and across the border. Military officials did not say how many troops had entered Iraq.

"Operations continue in a few areas across the border (northern Iraq) and two separate areas inside the country" in an attempt to prevent PKK actions targeting Turkish units, the statement said.

In an earlier announcement, the Turkish military reported that operations were mainly concentrated inside the country.

An AFP photographer in the southeastern town of Cizre, less than 40 miles (70 kilometres) from the Iraqi frontier, said local residents saw a convoy of 43 military trucks returning from the north of Iraq where PKK members are holed up.

Turkey is seeking support from its neighbors and Europe for its military campaign.

"The PKK is not only Turkey's enemy, but also Europe's," Turkey's European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis was quoted as saying by the Anatolia News Agency on Saturday. "We must fight against terrorism all together. The security of Paris, Brussels, London begins from Sirnak, Hakkari" provinces in Turkey's southeast.

The attacks by Kurdish rebels have also mobilized Turkey's civil society.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations, business associations and professional chambers across Turkey are readying to meet with the president, prime minister and opposition party leaders, Turkish media reported.

Others in the southeast are expected to go to the Qandil mountains, in an attempt to convince the PKK to lay down arms. Earlier, the military said the operations were mainly concentrated in the southeast, but it did not specify how many troops had entered Iraq.

Thr conflict has disrupted life in northern Iraq, preventing inhabitants from moving around for fear of Turkish bombardments. Residents of Shila Dizah, in Iraq's northernmost province of Dohuk, cannot access their farms in the region.

They said a Turkish military camp was located several miles up the road from the town, and a member of the Kurdish security forces said PKK members were on a bridge a few miles further.

Clashes between the PKK and the army have escalated since the summer.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

Turkey's last ground incursion into northern Iraq, an autonomous Kurdish region, was in February 2008, when the army struck against the Zap region.

Turkey Tracing PKK Terrorists, Clinton Says

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Turkey was tracing the PKK terrorists who killed 24 Turkish soldiers Wednesday in the deadliest PKK attack in 18 years.

While tracing the terrorists, Turkey is entering into the north of Iraq, because of alleged PKK hideouts, Clinton told Fox News, adding that it was difficult to stage a successful military operation if terrorist attacks were planned in hideouts across the border.

On Thursday, Turkish military initiated a land operation backed by air forces within Turkey and in the north of Iraq following Wednesday's terrorist attack that killed 24 soldiers and wounded 18 others in the southeastern province of Hakkari.

Turkey to Produce Light, National Helicopter

Turkey's defense procurement agency has formally pushed the button to launch an ambitious program to design, develop and produce the country's first national helicopter, a light platform weighing less than 5,500 kilograms.

"We aim to build a platform designed by Turkish engineers, with customized sub-systems that can also compete on international markets with its performance and price. The first national helicopter will be sold to the Turkish market and then to international buyers," the procurement office, known as the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, or SSM, said in a recent statement on its Web site.

A senior SSM official familiar with the program said requests for proposals would soon be issued to international manufacturers willing to cooperate with Turkey on this project. The program is expected to cost Turkey billions of dollars in the next few decades, sources say.

Potential respondents

Potential respondents to the planned request for proposal include the United States helicopter maker Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. and Italy's AgustaWestland. Earlier this year, Sikorsky defeated AgustaWestland in Turkey's multibillion-dollar medium-sized utility helicopter competition. Turkey hopes to select its foreign partner in the light utility helicopter program next year.

One procurement official said Turkey wanted a foreign partner that can bring marketing advantages to the light utility helicopter program.

"It's not that we can't make that helicopter ourselves, we can make it. But we would prefer to work with a company that has large marketing capabilities in third markets also," the official said.

In a separate helicopter effort, Turkey in August signed a government-to-government deal with the United States to buy six Boeing-made CH-47 heavy-lift military transport helicopters, the first such vehicles in its inventory. The deal is worth up to $400 million.

On Sept. 29 the SSM held a critical brainstorming meeting to set out a road map for the national helicopter program. Military and civilian officials, industry executives and academics gathered for the meeting to discuss ideas.

Koksal Liman, head of SSM's helicopter programs, said Oct. 13 that, "We aim to see our first helicopter in the air within the next five years." He also said the SSM already had completed budget planning.

Industry sources have said the type of light helicopter Turkey intends to build should weigh between 4,500 and 5,500 kilograms. The first Turkish national helicopter will be used for both military and civilian purposes, officials said. "Turkey is the world's ninth largest helicopter market, so it is most natural if we went ahead to boost that sector of our local industry," Liman said.

Allegations Against Iran are Very Serious, Turkish Foreign Minister Says

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said allegations that Iran planned an assassination on Saudi Arabia's ambassador in Washington were very serious.

Davutoglu said that accusations that a country would engage in an assassination attempt in another country against a third country's ambassador were extremely serious and the issue needed to be treated with the necessary care and seriousness.

"Our advice to our neighbor Iran is to take notice of the evidence that the United States has and to help the legal process in a totally transparent manner," Davutoglu said.

Bulgarian Citizens in Turkey Vote in Country's Presidential Election

Bulgarian citizens living in Turkey are voting in polling stations in some Turkish provinces and towns for the presidential election in Bulgaria on Sunday.

Officials told AA correspondent that Bulgarian citizens could cast their votes at polling stations in Ankara, Istanbul, Edirne, Antalya, Babaeski, Bursa, Buyukkaristiran, Gebze, Eskisehir, Izmir, Izmit, Kapakli, Korfez, Kirklareli, Luleburgaz, Manisa, Muratli, Saray, Serdivan, Tekirdag, Cayirova, Corlu and Yalova.

Bulgarian voters living in Turkey cannot cast their votes for local elections, but only for presidential elections. The second term of current President Georgi Parvanov expires in January 2012.

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