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Mourning, sighs of relief in Turkish town shelled by Syria

Charlene Gubash / NBC News

Emin Belgin, a truck driver (second from right), enjoys a rare peaceful evening at a sidewalk cafe in Akcakale, Turkey. The city is located seven miles from the Syrian border.

AKCAKALE, Turkey -- The residents of a Turkish town allowed themselves to relax a little even as they mourned neighbors killed after a mortar from across the border in Syria slammed into a house, killing two women and three children.

"We couldn't sleep the last 10 days. We covered our ears in fear. Today was quiet for the first time -- nothing happened," cotton farmer Ussein Avsar told NBC News as he sat at an outdoor café.

Avsar says he can now return to his fields, which are just two miles from the Syrian border.

Wednesday’s deaths came amid escalating violence in the area. Mortars have been landing on Akcakale, a town of 40,000, since September when rebels seized the Syrian side of the border from President Bashar Assad's forces, who have been shelling the area ever since.

Syrian rebels seize border crossing to Turkey

The attack was the most serious escalation of tensions between the two neighbors since Syrian forces shot down a Turkish fighter jet in June. It highlighted the rising risks of a broader conflict as Assad's 18-month crackdown on armed rebels continues.

NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports from the Turkey Syria border where small farming communities take the brunt of spillover violence, making life unbearable.   

Up and down the 560-mile border, Turks were already growing increasingly frustrated at the violence spilling into their towns and villages and at the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who are now sheltering on Turkish soil.

Stray bullets and mortar rounds have also struck Syria’s other neighbors, Jordan, Lebanon and the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Syrians sought refuge in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.

UN Security Council condemns Syria shelling of Turkey

And finally, some say, Turkey has moved to defend them from the violence spilling over the border. On Thursday, Turkey’s parliament approved future retaliation, and Turkish leaders expanded their options for dealing with Syria.

SANA via Reuters

A look back at the violence that has overtaken the country

"It was a very good decision," Avsar said.

Friend Emin Belgin, a truck driver, said he wished his government had acted sooner.

Photos: Turkish soldiers secure border with Syria

"We couldn't sleep for the last two weeks.  All the children were terrified. And the world looked at the Turks as cowards," he said.  "They should have done it before the five people were killed." 

Turkey has authorized further military action against Syria saying it is intended to be a deterrent and to protect Turkey. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

Still, confidence is already seeping back into Akcakale. 

Aleppo explosions kill at least 40, Syria activists say

Young boys shout and laugh as they swing in the town playground late into the night.  Their schools closed during the bouts of shelling but will reopen in a few days.  And residents who had evacuated began returning to their homes as soon as the parliament authorized military action inside Syria.

But the dark clouds will continue to gather over Syria’s borders as long as the conflict there, which activists say has already killed 30,000 people, rages on.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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