ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish warplanes and attack helicopters pounded Kurdish rebel positions Thursday in a rugged southeast region, a clash that comes as Turkey grows increasingly concerned that Kurdish rebels may be trying to expand their reach by establishing bases in conflict-ridden Syria.

Thursday’s fighting pitted Turkish troops against Kurdish rebels who were allegedly planning to seize the town of Semdinli. The town sits on a high plateau, about 14 kilometers (9 miles) north of the border with Iraq. It is located in an area where the borders of Turkey, Iran and Iraq converge.

Town mayor Sedat Tore said he saw the aircraft flying bombing sorties toward nearby Mount Goman, where rebels were believed to be hiding. A gray smoke billowed from rocky mountains in the distance, television footage showed.

The clashes began when the rebels setup a road block near Semdinli on July 23, authorities said. The clashes since have forced many villagers to flee their homes.

At least two soldiers have been killed and 14 others were wounded, the governor’s office said. Turkey’s state-run TRT television, without citing sources, said at least 37 rebels have been killed in the clashes, but authorities have not confirmed the report.

Kurdish rebels have been fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast for the last 28 years. Kurds make up a sizeable portion of the populations in neighboring countries as well.

Turkish Kurdish rebels have established hideouts and bases in northern Iraq. More recently, Turkey says the rebels have managed to seize a handful of towns in Syria, another neighboring country. The Turkish military has repeatedly targeted Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq, and Turkey has hinted it would not hesitate to go after the rebels in Syria.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press