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13 Turkish soldiers die in fire attributed to Kurdish group

From Talia Kayali, CNN
  • Another seven soldiers were hurt, two of them seriously
  • The PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, wants more rights for Turkish Kurds
  • Prime Minister Erdogan announced the establishment of a task force to investigate

(CNN) -- Thirteen soldiers were killed Thursday when soldiers clashed with Kurdish fighters during an operation in the town of Silvan in Diyarbakir province, the Turkish Armed Forces said in a statement.

During the incident, hand grenades exploded, igniting a fire that spread in a thickly forested area, resulting in the deaths, the military said. Another seven soldiers were hurt, two of them seriously, in the fire.

The government attributed the fighting to the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, which is pushing for more rights for Turkish Kurds.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and a number of ministers along with chief of the armed forces, General Isik Kosaner, and other military leaders, met Thursday in Ankara and announced the establishment of a task force to investigate the incident.

"At a time when rights and freedoms are expanding and growing in our country, while brotherhood and peace is gaining strength, the terrorist organization has shown its heinous goals and his treacherous face once more," President Abdullah Gul said in a statement on his website. "I want to make this clear, such attacks will not deter our government or our nation from finding solutions to our problems ... We will continue our struggle against terrorism with our determination."

Upon arriving in Istanbul, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed support for Turkey. "We stand with Turkey in its fight against the PKK, a designated terrorist organization which has claimed tens of thousands of Turkish lives," she said in a statement. "We support Turkey in its fight against terror and we will continue to work with the Government of Turkey to combat terrorism in all its forms."

She added that she was planning to meet with Turkey's leaders this week in Istanbul where I will personally convey to them our commitment to close cooperation."

She was planning to attend meetings of the Libya Contact Group in Istanbul on Friday and Saturday and to meet with Gul and Erdogan.

CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this story