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Turkey warns Syria again as world watches

Turkey has issued a fresh warning that the firing of artillery shells from across the border in Syria will not go unpunished. While the US has voiced fears of a widening conflict, Ankara says it does not want a war.

Turkey again returned fire after Syrian mortar bombs landed in a field in southern Turkey on Saturday - the fourth day in which shells have been fired across the border from either side.

Local media and Turkish officials said they were certain the bombs had been fired by pro-government Syrian forces rather than rebels.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu appeared in part to attempt to cool the situation in an interview with state broadcaster TRT on Saturday, emphasizing that parliament's approval of possible cross-border military action was intended as a deterrent.

"With the mandate we did not take a step towards war, we showed the Syrian administration our deterrence, making the necessary warning to prevent a war," the foreign minister said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (Photo: AP/dapd)

Davutoglu said deterrent was the aim but that there would be consequences

However, as shells continue to fall on the Turkish side of the border, the foreign minister also made it clear that Ankara's patience was wearing thin.

"From now on, if there is an attack on Turkey, it will be silenced," Davutoglu said.

The tension follows the deaths of five people in a Syrian strike on the Turkish border town on Akcakale on Wednesday. Turkey has placed tanks and anti-aircraft missiles near to the town.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had issued a stern warning on Friday that, while Turkey did not want war, Damascus would be making a “fatal mistake” if cross-border shelling from the Syrian side of the border did not cease.

Washingon voices worries

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Saturday expressed fears that the hostilities within Syria could spread.

Television footage showing a cloud of smoke and dust rising after the Akcakale attack (Photo: Reuters)

The Akcakale attack was said to have been on a different level to previous mortar incursions

"Whether or not that conflict begins to extend into the neighboring countries such as Turkey remains to be seen," Panetta told a news conference while on a visit to Peru. "Obviously the fact that there are now exchanges fired between these two countries raises additional concerns that this conflict could broaden."

The Turkish broadcaster NTV has reported that Syria has ordered warplanes and helicopters not to go within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of the border. It has also urged artillery units to show restraint near to the frontier, the broadcaster said.

NATO member Turkey was once an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It turned against him after his armed response to an uprising in which the UN estimates that more than 30,000 people have died. Nearly 100,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be currently living in refugee camps on Turkish soil.

rc/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)