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U.S. urges restraint after Turkish soldiers killed in clashes with PKK

  • Story Highlights
  • Kurdish rebels kill at least 12 Turkish soldiers, Turkish government says
  • Turkish forces respond by killing 32 PKK rebels, government says
  • Fighting taking place inside Turkey near border with Iraq and Iran
  • NEW: Turkey holds emergency cabinet meeting; U.S. urges restraint
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(CNN) -- The United States is urging Turkey to show restraint after Kurdish rebels attacked its forces on Sunday, killing at least 17 Turkish soldiers and wounding 16 others near Turkey's border with Iraq and Iran, according to Turkey's defense minister.

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A Turkish soldier walks through the village of Senoba, Turkey, near the border with Iraq.

The initial response by Turkish forces was to hit back by killing 32 rebels from the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in southern Turkey, according to a statement on an official government Web site.

Sunday's deadly attack on Turkish soldiers prompted outrage among citizens in Istanbul, Turkey, who took to the streets in protest. Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said that, in addition to the 17 killed, 10 Turkish soldiers were missing after the ambush in southern Turkey. He denied reports they had been abducted by PKK rebels.

Shortly after the attack, a wedding convoy tripped a landmine in Daglica, Turkey, near the ambush site, a Turkish government source said. The attack wounded 12 people and is believed to have been the work of PKK rebels, the source said. Video Watch CNN's Nic Robertson report on the attack »

After an emergency meeting Sunday of Turkey's military and political leaders President Abdullah Gul issued a statement saying: "We will continue on our path of determination in fighting the terrorist organization. We respect Iraq's national borders. But [we] will not tolerate those who help and harbor terrorists."

There are fears that the escalation in fighting could spill into northern Iraq's Kurdish region, where Turkey insists the PKK leadership is based.

But Iraq denies that, saying PKK leaders are hiding out in rugged mountain areas along the Turkish border that are not controlled by Iraq.

Cross-border shelling between Turkish forces and PKK rebels in northern Iraq continued Sunday. Iraqi leaders fear Turkish ground forces could make a major push into northern Iraq after Turkey's parliament approved such an incursion in an overwhelming vote last week.

Gonul on Sunday assured U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates that Ankara would not to carry out an imminent ground incursion, but he did not abandon the possibility of sending Turkish troops into northern Iraq, which Gonul called "a safe haven" for PKK rebels.

Gonul and Gates met in Kiev, Ukraine. Gates said: "A major cross-border operation would be contrary to Turkey's interests as well as to our own and that of Iraq."

Iraq's President Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, addressed the rising tensions with Turkey during a meeting with Kurdish regional leader Massoud Barzani in Irbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region.

Talabani reiterated Iraq's demand that PKK rebels lay down their arms, and restated calls for a diplomatic solution.

He also said Sunday that Iraqi forces are unable to find the rebel leaders because of the difficult landscape. "The Turkish military, with its mightiness, could not annihilate them or arrest them, so how could we arrest them and hand them to Turkey?" Talabani said at a news conference following his meeting with Barzani.

Turkey's parliament last week passed a measure that enables its military to launch an incursion into northern Iraq and chase down Kurdish rebels.

Although Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the vote in his parliament last week wouldn't necessarily trigger immediate military action against the PKK, the United States and Iraqi officials have been in high diplomatic gear for days in efforts to keep Turkey from carrying out the proposed cross-border assaults against the rebels.

The United States fears a large-scale military operation by Turkey in northern Iraq would undermine the stability of the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad and jeopardize supply lines that support U.S. troops in Iraq.

Tariq al-Hashimi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents and a top Sunni Arab leader, met with Turkish leaders last week about the tensions along the Iraq-Turkish border, and said the talks "ended in good results," his office said in a statement.

Iraq's Kurdish region -- which consists of Duhuk, Irbil and Sulaimaniya provinces -- has had a close economic relationship with Turkey, and the passage of the Turkish measure has stoked anger there.

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When asked how Iraq's government would respond to the possibility of Turkish ground forces in northern Iraq, Barzani urged dialogue with Turkey but said Iraqi forces would act "in self-defense."

"We will not be a part of any such conflict," Barzani said. "But if we are targeted directly we will defend ourselves." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh in Baghdad and Talia Kayali in Atlanta contributed to this report

All About TurkeyRecep Tayyip ErdoganAbdullah Gul

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