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Turkey issues fresh warning to Syria as fighting flares on border


Smoke fills the sky after an air strike in Ras al-Ain, Syria. The town is on the border with Turkey and the close proximity of the raids have drawn condemnation from Ankara.

A Syrian warplane struck homes in the town of Ras al-Ain, which is within sight of the Turkish border, as it pursued an aerial bombardment designed to force out rebels. The attacks drew a new warning on Tuesday from Turkey, which has vowed to defend itself from any violation of its territory.

The second day of jet strikes sent Syrians scurrying through the flimsy barbed-wire fence that divides Ras al-Ain from the Turkish settlement of Ceylanpinar as thick plumes of smoke rose above the town.

Medical workers and refugees in Ceylanpinar said bombing on Monday and Tuesday struck residential areas in the town, which fell to rebels last week during an advance into Syria's mixed Arab and Kurdish northeast.

n jets and helicopters attacked a rebel-held town just feet from the Turkish border, sending scores of civilians fleeing into Turkey. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.

The offensive has caused some of the biggest refugee movements since the armed revolt against President Bashar Assad began in March last year, and brought the war back perilously close to Turkish soil.

Turkey is reluctant to be drawn into a regional conflict but the proximity of the bombing raids to the border is testing its pledge to defend itself from any spillover of violence from Syria.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan stressed that Ankara would not hesitate to respond if threatened.

"We are giving the necessary response on the border and will not refrain from a much harsher response if necessary," he told deputies of his AK Party. "Nobody should play with fire or try to test Turkey's patience."

NATO will defend Turkey in conflict with Syria, says chief

Turkey has repeatedly fired back in retaliation for stray gunfire and mortar rounds flying across its 560-mile border with Syria, and is talking to NATO allies about the possible deployment of Patriot surface-to-air missiles.

‘This won’t stop’
A Turkish health official at the hospital in Ceylanpinar said rebel fighters were trying to pull the wounded from under the rubble of a house. Refugees say the fighters are taking cover in homes, many of them abandoned by residents who have fled for Turkey.

"As soon as we heard the jets, we knew they would bomb. It hit another house just 100 meters (yards) away," Mohammad Kahan, 49, a Kurd who fled Ras al-Ain with nine members of his family, said of Monday's bombardment. "This won't stop, Assad will not go until America and Britain come and stop him. Only these two can stop him."

Opposition activists say at least a dozen people died on Monday, the latest of an estimated 38,000 victims of the 19-month civil war. The casualty toll on Tuesday was not known.

In one 24-hour period last week, some 9,000 Syrians fled fighting during a rebel advance into Syria's northeast, swelling to over 120,000 the number of registered refugees in Turkish camps, with winter setting in.

Soft-spoken preacher Mouaz al-Khatib is chosen to lead new united Syrian opposition

Tens of thousands more are unregistered and living in Turkish homes.

NBC News

People resisting the army of President Bashar al-Assad in northern Syria cope with loss and prepare for fighting.

In total, at least 2.5 million Syrians are believed to have fled their homes because of civil war, aid groups said on Tuesday, more than double previous estimates. The figure comes from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

"If anything, they believe it could be more, that this is a very conservative estimate," Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing. "So people are moving, people are really on the run, hiding. They are difficult to count and to access," she said.


A look back at the violence that has overtaken the country

Analysis: US loses patience with Syria opposition group

Only 5 percent of the 2.5 million are believed to be living in public facilities, including warehouses and schools, said Fleming. The rest are staying with host families, making it more difficult to count them.

Also on Tuesday, Syrian jets and artillery hit the town of Albu Kamal on the frontier with Iraq, where rebels have seized some areas, according to the mayor of the Iraqi border town of Qaim.

Tension remained high in the Golan Heights, where Israeli gunners have retaliated against stray Syrian mortar fire landing on the occupied plateau in the previous two days.

Rebels press for recognition
The leader of Syria's new opposition coalition called on Tuesday on European states to recognize it as the legitimate government and provide it with funds to buy the weapons it needs to overthrow Assad.

But Britain and France appeared to set further conditions, notably for rallying support inside the country, before they grant full recognition to the Syrian National Coalition. And, like the United States, Europeans are still reluctant to arm rebel forces which include anti-Western Islamist militants.

"I request European states to grant political recognition to the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and to give it financial support," Mouaz al-Khatib, the Damascus preacher elected unopposed at a meeting in Doha, Qatar on Sunday to lead the new group.

France's defense minister and Britain's foreign minister both said on Tuesday that forming the new group under al-Khatib, a moderate noted for his embrace of Syria's religious and ethnic minorities, was an important step but not sufficient for full recognition as a government entitled to take over in Damascus.

Machine guns operated by motorcycle brakes? Get a glimpse at the rebels fighting against Assad's forces in Syria's mountainous Jabal al-Zawiya area.

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