CEYLANPINAR, Turkey: Turkey on Wednesday warned that its military would retaliate if any Syrian aircraft violate its airspace amid a third day of air strikes by Syrian forces against rebels who overran a town along the border with Turkey.
An Associated Press video journalist in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar witnessed a Syrian air strike in the adjacent Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn, where rebels say they have ousted troops loyal to President Bashar Assad. Deadly air strikes began several days ago, and many casualties were rushed into Turkey for treatment. Local officials said as many as 30 people have died since Monday.
Turkey's Anadolu news agency and other Turkish media said several villages west of Ceylanpinar have been evacuated to protect residents from any spillover of fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels. About 1,000 people left Mursitpinar, 180 kilometers (110 miles) from Ceylanpinar, after an appeal from the loudspeakers of local mosques.
Turkey's defense minister, Ismet Yilmaz, indicated that Turkey would use military force in response to any incursions by Syrian aircraft. Last month, Turkish artillery fired on targets in Syria after Syrian shells landed inside Turkey and killed several Turkish civilians in one instance.
"The necessary response will be given to Syrian planes and helicopters that violate our border," Yilmaz said.
Also Wednesday, the AP journalist saw Syrian forces shelling a wooded area near Ras al-Ayn from where rebels had been firing on them. A Turkish official in Ceylanpinar said the sound of shelling was heard throughout the night. Two rocket-propelled grenades hit houses on the Turkish side, but there were no injuries, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is barred from speaking to the media on the record.
Ras al-Ayn is located in the northeastern Syrian province of al-Hasaka, an oil-producing region where the population is mostly Kurdish.
The violence in Syria has killed more than 36,000 people since an uprising against Assad's regime began in March 2011. Hundreds of thousands have fled the fighting into neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Another 11,000 escaped into Turkey last week following the surge of fighting at Ras al-Ayn.