BAGHDAD — Turkish military aircraft entered Iraqi airspace Wednesday in "hot pursuit" of Kurdish rebels who hours earlier had killed 28 soldiers along the turbulent border, according to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The rebels, part of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, that is fighting for autonomy in Turkey, attacked military outposts and police stations near the Turkish border towns of Cukurca and Yuksekova, according to several press reports. The Turkish retaliation, which drew support from the United States and NATO, began soon afterward, with air force bombers and helicopter gunships leading the charge.
At least 20 Kurdish rebels were killed in the counteroffensive, the Istanbul-based Dogan news agency reported, although PKK leader Duzdan Hammo maintained that there were no rebel casualties as of Wednesday evening and that the number of Turkish fatalities was higher than reported.
"Turkish forces have provoked our fighters to conduct attacks," Hammo said in a phone interview. "There is still a lot of heavy shelling on the border."
The government of the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region called the PKK assault a crime that was "against the interests of the Kurdish people."
"We call for an immediate cease-fire," said the office of Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani in a written statement. "Problems will never be solved by war."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office did not respond to calls for comment on the clashes.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in the border conflict since 1984, when the PKK launched a violent and prolonged campaign for independence in Turkey. The United States has designated the PKK a terrorist group.