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News

Turkish border town hit by Syrian fire for second time

Turkey and Syria have again exchanged artillery fire along their tense common border. Inside Syria, government forces have launched a renewed push to purge rebel forces from the city of Homs.

The Turkish town of Akcakale became the site of cross-border shelling on Sunday, with Syrian mortar fire hitting the frontier town for the second time in less than a week.

A Syrian shell landed near a plant belonging to the Turkish Grain Board in Akcakale, causing light damage to the building but no casualties, according to Turkey's NTV news channel. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that retaliatory Turkish artillery fire hit near the Syrian town of Tel Abyad.

On Wednesday, Syrian shells landed in Akcakale, killing five Turkish civilians. The incident prompted the Turkish parliament on Thursday to authorize the government to launch military raids into Syria for up to a year if deemed necessary.

Turkey and Syria have exchanged artillery fire some five times this week, in the worst spate of cross-border violence since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.

On Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the parliamentary mandate to conduct military operations inside Syria did not signal a step toward war.

"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 told state broadcaster TRT, saying that "from now on, if there is an attack on Turkey, it will be silenced."

Ankara calls for transition

Davutoglu also called for there to be a transition of power from President Bashar Assad to the Syrian prime minister, Faruq al-Shara. The foreign minister said that the Syrian opposition was "inclined to accept Shara" as a future leader.

"Faruq al-Shara is a man of reason and conscience and he has not taken part in the massacres in Syria," the Turkish foreign minister told TRT. "Nobody knows the system better than he."

On Saturday, Syrian rebels sought to tighten their grip on their country's border with Turkey, seizing the frontier town of Khirbat al-Joz, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory claims that 80 percent of the towns and villages along the Turkish border are no longer under the control of the Syrian government.

Around 100,000 Syrians have taken refuge in Turkey to escape the violence in their home country. Ankara has allowed the Free Syrian Army (FSA), one of the main armed factions fighting to overthrow the Assad regime, to operate from Turkish territory.

Government reinforcements for Homs

Inside Syria, government forces pounded rebel forces in the western city of Homs. The Syrian National Council, a major opposition group, said that Damascus had sent reinforcements to Homs and that the city could fall completely under government control.

"Homs' fall will mark a serious turning point in the course of events, subjecting the present and future of Syria as well as the region to great perils," the council said in a release.

The Syrian state news agency, SANA, said that government troops had "inflicted heavy losses" on two rebel groups that had attempted to penetrate Homs from Lebanon.

"The rest of the two terrorist groups fled back into the Lebanese lands," SANA said. The Syrian government claims that the rebels are members of terrorist groups.

Meanwhile, in the Syrian capital, Damascus, a car bomb exploded outside of a police headquarters in Fahameh district. The state news agency SANA reported that one policeman died in the bombing, which it said occurred on Khaled bin al-Walid Avenue.

slk/jm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)