Kurdish anger over the incursion is growing [AFP]

The US defence secretary has said he will urge Turkey's leaders to quickly end a seven day military operation in Iraq against Kurdish fighters and instead use diplomacy to deal with the crisis.

The statement from Robert Gates came as Turkey's military said its troops killed 77 Kurdish fighters overnight. Five Turkish soldiers were also killed in northern Iraq.

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Gates told reporters in the Indian capital New Delhi on Wednesday that the US wants Ankara to adopt a different method of dealing with fighters from the Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK).

"It's very important that the Turks make this operation as short as possible and then leave, and to be mindful of Iraqi sovereignty," Gates said before leaving for Ankara.

"I measure quick in terms of days, a week or two, something like that. Not months.

"I also will repeat the point that I made to [Turkish] President Abdullah Gul when he visited Washington, which is that military activity alone will not solve this terrorist problem for Turkey."

'No timetable'

The Iraqi government has condemned Turkey's incursion into the Kurdish north of the country.

A statement from Baghdad on Tuesday said that the move was a violation of Iraq's sovereignty and demanded an immediate cessation of fighting.

Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, said: "The cabinet ... expressed its rejection and condemnation of the Turkish military incursion which is considered a violation of Iraq's sovereignty.

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"The cabinet stresses that unilateral military action is not acceptable and threatens good relations between the two neighbours."

However, Ahmet Davutoglu, chief foreign policy adviser to Turkey's prime minister, on Wednesday rejected the calls for an early withdrawal.

"Our objective is clear, our mission is clear and there is no timetable until ... those terrorist bases are eliminated," Davutoglu said after meeting Hoshiyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister.

Turkey's offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq has continued for seven days with conflicting reports of rising casualties from both sides.

Sustained fighting

Members of the Kurdish security force in the autonomous north of Iraq told the AFP news agency that sustained fighting had continued since Sunday as troops, backed by artillery and air cover, fought to seize a PKK camp in the Zap area.

The camp, situated in a deep valley 6km from the Turkish border, is allegedly one of the main passages used by PKK fighters to infiltrate Turkish territory and launch attacks.

Gates said Ankara had to be mindful
 of Iraqi sovereignty [AFP]
The figures announced on Wednesday by the Turkish army brings the toll of
PKK fighters killed to 230 and soldiers to 24 since the beginning of the incursion on Thursday. The military said three pro-government village guards also have been killed during the operation.

Ankara says an estimated 4,000 PKK rebels are holed up in northern Iraq using the region as a springboard for attacks on Turkish territory as part of their campaign for self-rule in the Kurdish-majority southeast of the country.

The PKK had rejected the army's death toll and says it has killed 81 soldiers.

Large protests in support of the PKK turned violent in the town of Diyabakir on Monday as protesters clashed with police.

Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid said the situation in the town was tense and that reports of similar small clashes in other Turkish towns reflected the growing frustration of Turkey's Kurdish minority.

She said that there was also growing anger on the Turkish side as the number of coffins of soldiers returning home continued to mount.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies