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Turkey steps up Syria warning

Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen listens to Turkey’s Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz yesterday.

ANKARA — Turkey’s military will respond with greater force if shelling from Syria continues to hit its territory, its chief of staff said today, as clashes between the Syrian army and rebels intensified along the border.

Several mortar shells landed outside the Syrian border town of Azmarin early today and heavy machine gun fire could be heard from the Turkish side. Plumes of smoke rose into the sky and cries of “God is greatest” rang out between the bursts of gunfire, a Reuters witness said.

Turkey’s armed forces have bolstered their presence along the 900-kilometre border and have been responding in kind over the past week to gunfire and shelling coming across from northern Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been battling rebels who control swathes of territory.

“We responded but if it continues we will respond with greater force,” state television TRT quoted Turkey’s Chief of Staff, General Necdet Ozel, as saying.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said yesterday the 28-member military alliance had plans in place to defend Turkey. He gave no further details, but a senior US defence official said NATO would likely react if Turkey made a request for assistance.

It is not clear whether the shells that have hit Turkish territory were aimed to strike there or were due to Syrian troops overshooting as they attacked rebel positions.

Scores of Syrian civilians, many of them women with screaming children clinging to their necks, crossed a narrow river marking the border with Turkey as they fled the fighting in Azmarin and surrounding villages.

Residents from the Turkish village of Hacipasa, nestled among olive groves, helped pull them across in small metal boats.

“The firing started getting intense last night. Some people have been killed, some are lying wounded on the road,” said a 55-year old woman, Mune, who fled Azmarin and sat with several adults and about 20 children outside a house in Hacipasa. (Reuters)

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