Aid from across Turkey has begun to reach areas that were devastated by Sunday's 7.2-magnitude earthquake that centered on Van's Erçiş district

The Prime Ministry's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate, or AFAD, issued a statement Monday saying that 26 planes, hundreds of engineering vehicles and large quantities of aid material had reached the area.

"An emergency aid fund worth $3 million was initially sent to the Van Governor's Office by our Prime Ministry to meet urgent needs," AFAD said in the statement. "First aid, health, as well as search-and-rescue personnel and equipment were sent to the region from 45 provinces and 37 institutions by land and by air with 26 planes in total – 16 of them military and 10 from Turkish Airlines."

Nearly 2,400 search-and-rescue personnel, 355 engineering vehicles and more than 100 ambulances have been sent to the region, in addition to large quantities of aid material and other equipment.

The Bursa Governor's Office has launched a drinking water aid campaign for Van and sent a large quantity of packaged drinking water to the area. At the same time, the General Directorate of Post and Turkish Telecommunication, or PTT, and the private transportation firm MNG Kargo have also started offering free aid shipping to Van while major sports clubs such as Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş have launched aid campaigns for the region. Galatasaray will reportedly be donating revenues collected from its match with Gaziantepspor to the earthquake's victims, while Eskişehirspor fans will also be sending 10 tons of drinking water.

Van Still Hoping to Rescue Quake Victims

In Erciş, the heart of the earthquake zone and a district of Van province rocked by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake on Sunday, people are working together with rescue teams to dig out their loved ones from beneath the rubble.

İmdat Padak, 24, was among a crowd of men Monday who was holding his mobile phone while staring at the ruins of a building. Three people from his family were buried underneath.

"I am calling them and their phones are ringing. I know they must be somewhere here," Padak told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Erciş, a town of almost 75,000 people, now seems like a dead zone. Crowds of people are running from one place to another trying to get aid, find their relatives or help others. Zilan Street, the town's most famous, lost all of its buildings in the quake. Dozens of people have been climbing on top of the ruins.

"They are still sending me text messages," Ahmet Karayel said about his relatives who are buried under mounds of concrete. "They asked for water. I know they are still alive but I just do not know where exactly."

Emergency aid teams have worked nonstop since Sunday to rescue the victims. Among the rescued is a 10-year-old boy named Yunus who was caught in the earthquake in an Internet cafe and was rescued from the ruins after almost 24 hours. Yalçın Akay, who was also rescued, was reported to have called the emergency line 155 and told them his address. Akay was rescued from a six-story building and his condition was last reported as stable.

Still, some say that the search-and-rescue work has been inefficient.

"The rescue teams are digging a hole, shouting for people under the rubble and trying to hear a voice. We need to have a more developed system," said 35-year-old Resul Yılmaz. "They are working but the methods are not enough."

Death Toll in Earthquake Zone Rises, Officials Report

The number of victims killed in a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in eastern Turkey rose Monday as aid started pouring in from across the country.

While hopes faded for the possible survivors, the official death toll rose to 279 with more than 1,300 injured. Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay said rescue teams and volunteers have reached every point in the disaster zone.

"We have rescue teams at every collapsed building in Van, Erciş and the villages," Atalay said in a press conference Monday afternoon in Van. "There is no shortage of tents, heaters and blankets. The state is very organized to help the victims of the earthquake."

The earthquake hit Van Sunday afternoon, causing damage to the city, particularly in Erciş district.

"Six buildings collapsed in Van, killing 36 people, and 62 citizens died in the nearby villages," Atalay said. "The damage is worse in Erciş, where 63 buildings collapsed and 141 people died."

The Education Ministry said in a statement that 22 of the victims were teachers and eight were students.

Atalay said a total of 2,318 rescue workers are in Van, with 12 search-and-rescue dogs. More than 200 ambulances and 355 pieces of heavy machinery are also being used in the efforts, the deputy prime minister added.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he feared for the fate of villages that rescue teams had yet to reach.

"Because the buildings are made of mud brick, they are more vulnerable to quakes. I must say that almost all buildings in such villages are destroyed," Erdoğan said in an overnight news conference in Van.

The Cabinet members who flew to the area with Erdoğan and directed the rescue efforts until the early hours of Monday morning ensured there were no major problems in help efforts.

"Our state has acted very quickly, many Cabinet members arrived here just hours after the disaster," Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar told the Hürriyet Daily News. "There is great coordination between hospitals, the police and the gendarmerie. It is obvious that we have learned from the experience of the earthquake in 1999."

Bayraktar said Turkey has kindly rejected all offers for international help since it is ready to "go through this test by itself."

Health Minister Recep Akdağ told the Hürriyet Daily News that the biggest hospital in Van had no problems during and after the earthquake.

Turkey Turns Down Foreign Offers of Aid

Turkey is turning down offers for assistance after Sunday's deadly 7.2-magnitude earthquake, saying that foreign aid is not currently needed.

"I extend my thanks to those presidents who called by phone sharing our sorrow, stating solidarity and offering assistance," President Abdullah Gül said in a written statement Monday.

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Armenian President Serj Sarkisian were among foreign leaders who spoke on the phone with Gül after the quake offering assistance. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç Monday denied allegations that Turkey rejected Israeli government's appeal to send aid teams due to the sour relations between the two countries.

"We have thanked them for their offer. Around 50 countries made similar offers if we would accept all of them it would turn into a great mess," he said after the weekly cabinet meeting Monday. Assistance from Azerbaijan and Iran was received because they sent rescue teams without prior consultation with Ankara, diplomatic sources said.

"Turkey is not accepting help it did not ask for, but we had already sent our teams," an official from the Azerbaijani Embassy told the Hürriyet Daily News.

On Monday, Russia announced it was sending two planes to Turkey, carrying search-and-rescue teams, sniffer dogs and a field hospital, Russian Embassy officials, however, told the Daily News they were still waiting for approval.

Army 'Won't Let PKK Seize Local Power'

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, is shifting to urban terrorism as part of a plan to take over state authority in southeastern Turkey, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel said, cautioning that the morale of the security forces was "vital" in any efforts to resolve the Kurdish conflict.

The military chief said he learned of talks between the PKK and the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, only when an audio tape of the meetings was recently posted on the Internet, adding that he still did not know whether the tape was genuine.

The army's task is to fight the PKK, while other issues related to the conflict are up to Parliament and the government, he said.

"To preserve the indivisible unity of the Turkish state and the nation one should do what is required by the state's century-old traditions and common reason," Özel said. "Taking into account social values and sensitivities respecting the memory of dead soldiers and veterans and paying attention to the morale of the security forces is of vital importance for any step to be taken."

Özel said about 270 PKK militants had been killed in air raids on PKK hideouts in northern Iraq since August and more than 210 were wounded. Cross-border operations at a few locations in northern Iraq are still under way after 24 soldiers were killed in Hakkari last week.

Turkey and the United States are also making efforts for "more concrete results and improved efficiency" in intelligence-sharing against the PKK, Özel said, and n 2012, the army will contract 10,659 professional soldiers to be deployed at border units, in addition to the existing contingent of 5,103 soldiers who are currently being trained.

Turkey Moves into Iraq, Near PKK Camp

Turkish tanks and armored vehicles crossed into northern Iraq headed in the direction of a Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, camp, Turkish security sources said on Monday. The incursion came as cross-border operations continued in the wake of last week's attack by PKK terrorists that killed 24 Turkish soldiers.

The armored column, with hundreds of troops, was moving toward a PKK camp at Haftanin, around 12 miles from the Habur border post and near the Iraqi city of, Zakho, where several hundred PKK terrorists are believed to be based.

The remoteness of the camp's location and its rough terrain made it difficult to assess how close the Turkish forces were to Haftanin, but residents of the village of Dashtatakh in Dahuk province, about 10 km east of Haftanin, reported that 200 Turkish soldiers entered Iraqi territory on Monday afternoon, but left about an hour later. Tanks could be seen in the distance but did not enter, according to one resident.

"I saw this afternoon around 200 Turkish soldiers entering a site near our village. They were on foot and equipped with light weapons," said Dashtatakh resident Said Hanna Younan."It seems that they were looking for PKK fighters, and they didn't find what they were looking for. They left after one hour," he said, adding that the tanks had stayed on the Turkish side of the river.

Separately, the head of Turkey's armed forces, General Necdet Özel, offered a review of recent military operations for NTV news channel.

"The cross-border operation that started on Oct. 20 continues in a number of regions, within the framework of a determined struggle against terrorism," Özel said in statement to NTV, and posted on its Web site.

Turkish air strikes have killed 250 to 270 PKK terrorists, wounded 210 and destroyed many arms stores in northern Iraq since Aug. 17, Özel wrote.

Turkish warplanes launched air strikes against PKK members in northern Iraq in mid-August in retaliation for a string of PKK attacks in southeast Turkey. The military launched fresh air-backed ground operations against the terrorists last week on both sides of the mountainous Turkey-Iraq border after simultaneous PKK attacks killed 24 Turkish soldiers in Hakkari province along the Iraqi border.

On Saturday, the military said it had killed 49 terrorists during two days of fighting in a valley on the Turkish side of the frontier.

Ankara's reaction to one of the deadliest attacks on its security forces in a conflict that began three decades ago had fuelled speculation that Turkey could move to a full-blown incursion to clear out PKK camps deeper inside northern Iraq.

More than 40,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in 1984.

Germany Must Declare PKK Terrorist Organization

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Sunday that Germany must declare the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, as a terrorist organization, not just a crime gang.

"Countries should assume a common stance on terrorism wherever it occurs," Bozdag said during a meeting in Munich, Germany.

Bozdag said Turkey attached importance to cooperation in combatting terrorism because terrorism has no borders and does not recognize nation, race, religious and sect. Bozdag later returned to Turkey.

Clinton Warns Iran over U.S. Presence in Turkey

Iran should not misread the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq as affecting the United States' commitment to the fledgling democracy, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

President Barack Obama's Oct. 21 announcement that all American troops would return from Iraq by the end of the year will close a chapter on U.S.-Iraq relations that began in 2003 with the U.S.-led invasion.

Washington has long worried that meddling by Iran, a Shiite Muslim theocracy, could inflame tensions between Iraq's Shiite-led government and its minority Sunnis, setting off a chain reaction of violence and disputes across the Middle East.

Clinton said in a series of TV news interviews that the U.S. would continue its training mission with Iraq, which would resemble operations in Colombia and elsewhere. While the U.S. will not have combat troops in Iraq, she said the American presence would remain strong because of its bases in the region.

"Iran would be badly miscalculating if they did not look at the entire region and all of our presence in many countries, both in bases and in training with NATO allies, like Turkey," she told CNN's "State of the Union."

Asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" about fears of civil war in Iraq after U.S. troops leave, Clinton said:

"Well, let's find out. We know that the violence is not going to automatically end. No one should miscalculate America's resolve and commitment to helping support the Iraqi democracy. We have paid too high a price to give the Iraqis this chance. And I hope that Iran and no one else miscalculates that."

In an interview released Oct. 22, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tehran has "a very good relationship" with Iraq's government, and the relationship will continue to grow. "We have deepened our ties day by day," Ahmadinejad said.

Iranian-American Due to Enter Plea over Saudi Plot

Meanwhile, an Iranian-American accused of plotting to hire Mexican gangsters to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington was due in federal court Monday in New York, where he was expected to enter a plea.

Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen holding Iranian and U.S. passports who lived for many years in Texas where he worked as a used car salesman, was arrested last month in New York. He and co-defendant Gholam Shakuri, who is at large, allegedly conspired to "kill the ambassador to the U.S. of Saudi Arabia, while the ambassador was in the U.S.," according to court documents.

Iran has strongly denied any involvement in what the U.S. says was a plot by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds force to kill the ambassador by hiring assassins from a Mexican drug cartel for $1.5 million. The two co-defendants are also accused of planning for a "weapon of mass destruction" to be used against the ambassador.

3D Seismic Research to be Held in Mediterranean, Turkish Energy Minister Says

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said a Turkish ship would set sail from the southern province of Antalya Monday to carry out 3D seismic researches in a 1,100-kilometer area in the Mediterranean.

The ship would stay there for 40 days, he said.

Yildiz said that Turkish "Koca Piri Reis" ship had conducted 2D research in a 2,100-km area so far and it would keep conducting research. On September 21, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus President Dervis Eroglu signed an agreement on the delineation of the continental shelf between the two countries in the East Mediterranean.

The deal gives Turkey the green light to search oil and natural gas inside the Turkish Cypriot waters.

The agreement follows a Greek Cypriot move to start offshore drilling for natural gas and oil in the southeast of the Eastern Mediterranean island. On September 22, the TRNC Council of Ministers gave exploration license to the Turkish Petroleum Corp., or TPAO, to explore oil and natural gas in the sea around Cyprus island.

Eroglu met United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York on September 24, and proposed to suspend oil and natural gas exploration until a comprehensive solution was found to the Cyprus question. Or, if the Greek Cypriot administration insisted on oil exploration, then a committee should be set up by the two sides on the island to decide how to share the richness that could be found after the explorations.

The Greek Cypriot side, however, did not give a positive response. In 2010, the Greek Cypriot administration and Israel signed an accord demarcating their maritime borders to facilitate a search for mineral deposits in the East Mediterranean.

The Greek Cypriot side had signed a deal with U.S.-based Noble Energy to start drilling a 324,000-hectare economic zone adjacent to the Israeli waters.

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