Tunceli (Turkey), Oct 8: Kurdish rebels shot dead 13 Turkish soldiers today, the worst such incident in years and likely to put more pressure on the government to authorise a cross-border military strike against Kurdish bases in Iraq.
The soldiers were killed after the army -- which has boosted its troops in the southeast and introduced security zones limiting access for civilians in the region -- killed a PKK member earlier in the day in fighting in Sirnak province.
''One of our units serving in the Sirnak region ... was killed in an armed attack by members of a terrorist organisation,'' the General Staff said in a statement on its Web site.
''The terrorists were pursued under fire by our units to escape routes out of the country to be stopped from leaving,'' the statement said in an apparent reference to Iraq. Sirnak province borders Iraq.
Some 3,000 PKK fighters are based in the mountains of northern Iraq and use it as a base to launch attacks on security and civilian targets in Turkish territory.
Intense fire fights between the PKK and the army have recently escalated in the restive mainly Kurdish southeast as the military steps up operations in the region before winter, when harsh conditions slow down the rebels' movement.
Turkish helicopters hit rebel positions after the soldiers were killed, security officials, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan expressed his condolences to armed forces chief General Yasar Buyukanit, state-run news agency Anatolian reported.
Separately, a bomb exploded near a ferry terminal on the outskirts of Istanbul, wounding at least one policeman. Kurdish separatists, as well as al Qaeda and left-wing militants, have been blamed for similar attacks against civilians and the authorities in the past.
Second Big Attack in a Week
On September 29, PKK members stopped a minibus in the same province as Sunday's shootings and killed 12 passengers. A Turkish soldier was also killed in the region on Saturday.
The military officials said guerrillas ambushed the vehicle as the people were returning to their village in Sirnak.
They ordered the passengers out of the vehicle and gunned them down with automatic weapons. Two people were injured.
Last month Ankara and Baghdad signed an agreement to help clamp down on PKK militants on Iraqi territory, but it did not give Turkey permission to follow rebels into Iraq.
Turkey has repeatedly criticised both Iraqi and US authorities for failing to clamp down on them.
The PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 with the aim of carving out an ethnic homeland in the southeast of Turkey.
More than 30,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
The fighting dwindled after the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, but clashes have flared up again in the last couple of years.