Source AP ©

Kurdish rebels clash with Turkish soldiers in country's southeast

13 Turkish soldiers died Sunday in a clash with Kurdish rebels in the country's southeast, and troops responded by shelling an area near the Iraqi border to try to stop the rebels from escaping across the border.

The soldiers were killed in the southeastern province of Sirnak, not far from where troops and rebels clashed on Friday, said a statement on the military's Web site.

Abdul-Rahman al-Chadarchi, a spokesman for the Kurdish rebel group, confirmed the attack and said the rebel fighters sustained no casualties.

An operation to track down the rebels was under way, and troops shelled areas near the border to try to prevent rebels from reaching their bases in northern Iraq, the Turkish military statement said.

The clash "boosted our determination and strength" to fight terrorism, the military said.

Also Sunday, an explosion in a trash bin in Istanbul wounded five people, including a police officer, Turkey's Dogan news agency reported. The blast occurred as a police car was passing, the report said.

Turkey has been pressing Iraq and the United States to hit the bases of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq, and has considered a unilateral military operation across the border to root out the rebels.

The U.S. is opposed to a military move by Turkey, which signed a counterterrorism pact with Iraq in September. The agreement does not allow Turkey to send its troops to Iraq's north, a key Turkish demand rejected under pressure from the leaders of Iraq's Kurdish region.

After Sunday's attack, a spokesman for the government of Iraq's Kurdish region, Jamal Abdullah, said, "We are not concerned with this issue because these clashes and shelling happened inside Turkish territories. This is a Turkish internal problem."

The PKK is branded a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union. Its members have fought Turkish government forces since 1984, seeking autonomy for Turkey's ethnic Kurds. The fighting has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The military on Sunday designated 27 "security zones" in eastern and southeastern Turkey, where the borders with Iraq and Iran converge. Starting Tuesday, the zones will be in place until Dec. 10. The areas will be off-limits to civilians.

The military imposed similar zones earlier in June in three southeastern provinces to keep civilians away from combat with the PKK.

Some experts have speculated that the zones are part of preparations for a possible Iraq campaign.

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