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Turkey hits back at Syria

Istanbu, October 6, 2012, Reuters: 22:38 IST

Moscow asks Istanbul not to raise tension

Turkey returned fire after a mortar bomb shot from Syria landed in a field in southern Turkey on Saturday, the day after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan warned Damascus Turkey would not shy away from war if provoked.

It was the fourth day of Turkish strikes in retaliation for mortar bombs and shelling by Syrian forces that killed five Turkish civilians further east on Wednesday.

The strikes and counter-strikes are the most serious cross-border violence in Syria's conflict, which began as a democracy uprising but has evolved into a civil war with sectarian overtones. They highlight how the crisis could destabilize the region.

Nato-member Turkey, once an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but now a leading voice in calls for him to quit, has nearly 100,000 Syrian refugees in camps on its territory and has allowed rebel leaders sanctuary. Its armed forces are far larger than Syria's.

Erdogan said on Friday his country did not want war but warned Syria not to make a “fatal mistake” by testing its resolve. Damascus has said its fire hit Turkey accidentally.

The Hatay governor's office said the round fired from Syria on Saturday landed on empty land near Guvecci village in Yayladagi district, 50 metres inside Turkey, at 7 am (0400 GMT).

“It is assessed that the shell was fired by Syrian Arab Republic security forces at opposition forces along the border,” a statement on its website said.

“There was no loss of life in the incident,” it said. “The Guvecci border post retaliated in kind with four rounds from 81 mm mortars.”

The Dogan news agency said another mortar round from Syria landed around 50 metres from an observation tower near Guvecci around 11 am (0800 GMT) and smoke rose from the area. There were no immediate reports of casualties or retaliation but a response was expected. Separately, the governor’s office warned people in the area not to go out on balconies or spend time in open places, Dogan said. It said the Red Crescent was offering psychological support to people in the area.

There were two similar incidents in Hatay on Friday. The United States has said it stands by its Nato ally's right to defend itself against aggression spilling over from Syria’s war, while Russia appealed to Turkey to stay calm and avoid any action that could increase tensions.

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