(MENAFN - Arab News) Turkey returned fire after mortar bombs shot from Syria landed in a field in southern Turkey yesterday, 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 counterstrikes 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.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu struck a defensive tone yesterday, saying Parliament's authorization of possible cross-border military action was designed as a deterrent.
"With the mandate we did not take a step toward war, we showed the Syrian administration our deterrence, making the necessary warning to prevent a war," he said.
"From now on, if there is an attack on Turkey it will be silenced," he said in an interview with state broadcaster TRT.
Davutoglu said international mediator on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi would come to Turkey before Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Ankara within the next 10 days.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby described Brahimi's Syria mission as "virtually impossible," in an interview with Egyptian paper Al-Ahram.
Asked about the efforts of the Egypt-Saudi-Turkey-Iran quartet to solve the Syrian crisis, Elaraby said: "The solution must comprise Iran. The important thing is that matters get moving."
Two rounds fired from Syria struck near Guvecci village in Yayladagi yesterday, the Hatay governor's office said. It said the fire appeared to have been aimed by Syrian government forces at rebels along the border. There were no casualties.
The first round landed 50 meters inside Turkey at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and the Guvecci border post retaliated with four rounds from 81 mm mortars. It fired two further rounds after the second mortar struck around 11:30 a.m. (0830 GMT).
The governor's office warned people in the area not to go out on balconies or spend time in open places, Dogan news agency said. It said the Red Crescent was offering psychological support to people in the area.
The Turkish General Staff yesterday sought to quell concerns about scenes of people apparently crossing freely back and forth across the frontier in the Akcakale area.
"There are no uncontrolled or illegal transits along the border. The region which we are responsible for is completely under control," the General Staff said in a statement to state-run Anatolian news agency.
Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Ministry yesterday appealed for the release of 48 of its citizens held hostage by rebels in Syria and threatened with execution one by one unless Syria's Army withdraws from an area in Damascus province.
The statement, relayed by the official news agency IRNA, described the captives as "pilgrims."
The Syrian rebels, in an August 5 video, showed the Iranians and said they were members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards conducting a military mission in support of Syria's regime.
On Friday, a rebel commander told AFP via Internet that the regime had until late Saturday to withdraw its forces from the embattled Eastern Ghuta area of Damascus province.
"We also have other secret, military demands. If the regime does not fulfill them we will start finishing off the hostages," warned the commander, Abul Wafa, of the rebels' Revolutionary Military Council in Damascus province.
The Iranian statement, by Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, said: "The hostage takers of the Iranian pilgrims in Syria as well as those supporting them are responsible for their lives."
The statement called on "international organizations to prevent such acts and to do everything to obtain the immediate liberation of all the pilgrims and Iranian nationals."
Iran's Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, on Aug. 8 said "retired" Revolutionary Guards members were among the hostages, but he denied they were on active service in Syria.