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Yeonpyeong lies a mere seven miles (11 kilometers) from — and within sight of — the North Korean mainland.

The United States, which has more than 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea, condemned the attack. In Washington, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called on North Korea to “halt its belligerent action,” and said the U.S. is committed to South Korea’s defense.

China, the North’s economic and political benefactor, which also maintains close commercial ties to the South, appealed to both sides to remain calm and “to do more to contribute to peace and stability on the peninsula,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

Stephen Bosworth, the Obama administration’s special envoy to North Korea, said he discussed the clash with the Chinese foreign minister and that they agreed both sides should show restraint. He reiterated that the U.S. stands firmly with its ally, South Korea.

Yeonpyeong, famous for its crabbing industry and home to about 1,700 civilians as well as South Korean military installations. There are about 30 other small islands nearby.

North Korea fired dozens of rounds of artillery in three separate barrages that began in the mid-afternoon, while South Korea returned fire with about 80 rounds, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Two South Korean marines were killed and 16 injured, it said. Island residents escaped to some 20 shelters on the island and sporadic shelling ended after about an hour, according to the military.

The Koreas’ 1950s war ended in a truce, but North Korea does not recognize the western maritime border drawn unilaterally by the United Nations at the close of the conflict, and the Koreas have fought three bloody skirmishes there in recent years.

South Korea holds military exercises off the west coast like Tuesday’s about every three months.

In March, a South Korean warship went down in the waters while on a routine patrolling mission. Forty-six sailors were killed in what South Korea calls the worst military attack on the country since the war.

Seoul blamed a North Korean torpedo, but Pyongyang denied responsibility.

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Kwang-Tae Kim reported from Seoul. AP writers Seulki Kim, Kelly Olsen and Foster Klug in Seoul contributed to this report.