October 23rd, 2007 05:23 EST
Clash blamed on Kurdish rebels, 35 killed
Turkey on Sunday pledged strong action against Kurdish separatists after 12 Turkish soldiers and 23 rebels were killed in a clash in the southeast of the country.
Turkey's President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and top ministers and military leaders were to meet Sunday to decide a response to the attack which Turkey blamed on Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels.
"We will make a decision at the end of our discussion on what sort of a step we will take," Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul.
The government is ready to use the parliamentary authorisation it obtained Wednesday to conduct a cross-border military strike against PKK bases in northern Iraq, Erdogan said.
While he again indicated that there would be no rush to carry out an incursion, the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad passed a motion condemning Turkey's threat to stage a raid in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region.
The United States is also worried about any action that could destabilize the relatively peaceful northern Iraq.
"With respect to the cross-border operation, we will take all necessary steps within the framework of the authorisation," he said. "We will act in a cool-headed manner."
The Turkish general staff said in a statement that fighting erupted after a large group of PKK rebels infiltrated from northern Iraq and attacked the soldiers shortly after midnight Saturday.
Sixteen Turkish soldiers were wounded in the fighting near the village of Daglica, in a mountainous region abutting the Iraqi border in Hakkari province.
Clashes were continuing, with helicopters providing air cover, the army said. Troops were monitoring the rebels' escape routes and heavy artillery was pounding 63 likely targets, according to the military.
Hours after the attack, 10 civilians were injured when a mine also blamed on PKK rebels exploded as a minibus drove past near Daglica, sources said.
Several analysts, among them retired soldiers, predicted that a Turkish military operation in northern Iraq could be imminent, but Erdogan deplored the comments as "alarmist."
In Baghdad, the Iraqi parliament condemning Turkey's moves to launch an attack.
"Iraq's parliament unanimously votes to condemn the threat of using force to solve the dispute. It feels that the Turkish parliament's decision to use force does not boost bilateral relations," the motion said.
Iran urged Turkey Ankara to opt for diplomatic means to resolve the dispute.
"Diplomatic means should be used and dialogue should continue between Iraq and Turkey," foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters in Tehran.
Ankara says some 3,500 PKK fighters are in bases in northern Iraq, which they use as a springboard for attacks on Turkish territory.
It says the rebels are supported by Iraqi Kurdish leaders, a charge the Iraqi Kurdish administration strongly denies.
Last week, Erdogan called for urgent action by Washington and Baghdad to crack down on PKK bases, saying that Ankara had no more time to lose with "empty words".
But he also said that his talks with US President George W. Bush next month in Washington would be crucial in determining Ankara's course of action concerning a cross-border operation.
Baghdad and Washington both oppose unilateral Turkish military action in northern Iraq.
Authorities from the autonomous Kurdish government in the region have said they will rebuff any Turkish attack on their territory.
Faced with rising rebel violence, Turkey says it is running out of options other than military action as neither the United States nor Iraq have done enough to stamp out the rebel bases.
More than 37,000 people have been killed since 1984 when the PKK, branded a terrorist group by much of the international community, took up arms fighting for self-rule in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast.
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