Dozens of Turkish military vehicles loaded with troops and heavy weapons moved toward the Iraq border on Monday after an ambush by guerrilla Kurds that left eight soldiers missing and killed 12.
Turkey's army said it lost contact with the eight troops after Sunday's clash and said 34 guerrillas had been killed so far in a counteroffensive. A pro-Kurdish news agency said the eight were captured.
"Right now, these soldiers are hostages in the hands of our forces," the pro-Kurdish Firat News Agency quoted a rebel commander, Bahoz Erdal, as saying. According to him, the soldiers' families should not worry about the fate of their sons: "We have not harmed them and we will not."
The ambush on Sunday outraged the Turkish public. Demonstrations reported across the country and opposition leaders called for an immediate strike against Kurdish bases in Iraq.
In a bid to calm the tension, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd said the rebels would declaer a truce later in the day. Talabani's made the remarks to reporters at the airport in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah before flying to Baghdad. Turkey's government, which has rejected similar announcements in the past, said the country will pursue diplomacy before it sends troops across the rugged frontier.
In Washington, the State Department said the United States has opened a diplomatic "full court press" to urge Turkey not to invade northern Iraq. "In our view, there are better ways to deal with this issue," spokesman Sean McCormack said, according to the AP.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a telephone conversation on Sunday night that Turkey expected "speedy steps from the U.S." in cracking down on Kurdish rebels and that Rice, who called the Turkish leader, asked "for a few days" from him.