Turkey’s top military commander on Wednesday warned of a stronger response if Syrian shells continue to land on Turkish soil, the private NTV television network reported.
“We have retaliated (for Syrian shelling) and if it continues, we’ll respond more strongly,” the head of the armed forces, General Necdet Ozel, said in Akcakale, a border town where five civilians were killed by Syrian shelling last week.
The military chief was inspecting troops on a tour of the heavily fortified border region where a number of shells fired from Syria have fallen, prompting fears of an escalation of the Syria conflict.
Following the deadly shelling in Akcakale last Wednesday, the Turkish parliament approved the use of military force if necessary against one-time ally Syria.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also warned Damascus not to test Turkey’s patience and vowed that Ankara would not tolerate such acts.
Meanwhile, Syrian forces on Wednesday hammered rebel belts in the central city of Homs, where besieged residents desperately pleaded for humanitarian assistance, and in the northern city of Aleppo, a watchdog said.
Shells rained down from early morning on parts of Homs and on the nearby town of Qusayr, near the Lebanon border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The army has intensified operations against Homs and Qusayr, which have been besieged by regime forces for months, vowing to overrun them by the end of the week to free up troops for battle zones in the north, such as Aleppo.
The onslaught has sent a new flood of refugees across the border into Lebanon, a Lebanese security official said, who noted on Tuesday that up to 400 people had crossed the frontier in a 24-hour period.
An activist in the Homs Old City, reached via Skype on Wednesday, said the district was “totally surrounded.”
“There is no way out. Our situation is so bad it makes anyone cry,” said the activist, who identified himself as Abu Bilal.
“The field hospitals are full of injured people needing operations and who need to be evacuated. There is no way out at all, at all.”
The Old City neighborhood of Homs has been under total siege by the army for more than four months. According to the Observatory, thousands of civilians remain trapped in the Old City and other besieged, rebel-held districts of the city rebels refer to as “the capital of the revolution.”
“We call on the International Committee of the Red Cross, and on the Red Crescent, to come to our assistance,” said Abu Bilal.
The ICRC made several failed attempts in the early summer to enter into Homs. The army and rebels exchanged blame for a failed ceasefire, a prerequisite for the mission's entry to evacuate wounded and civilians.
In Qusayr, the situation was “terrible” overnight, activist Hadi al-Abdallah told AFP via Skype on Wednesday.
“People are afraid of what might happen if the army enters into the rebel-held areas of Qusayr. They say they would prefer to die in the shelling than be executed by the army,” said Abdallah.
Qusayr has been in rebel hands -- and under siege -- since September last year. The Observatory says thousands of people are trapped in the town, and that the only way out is via secret tunnels.
“There is no way out for anyone here,” said Abdallah.
The Observatory also reported heavy shelling on Wednesday against a string of rebel-held neighborhoods in Aleppo, which has been the theatre since mid-July of an increasingly bloody battle between rebels and the army.
The Britain-based watchdog, which collates information from a network of activists and medics on the ground, added that on Tuesday alone 22 civilians died in a shelling blitz against Aleppo.
The Observatory added that 180 people died across the country on Tuesday -- 84 civilians, 45 rebels and 51 soldiers.
According to the watchdog, more than 32,000 people have died since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime erupted in March last year.
The revolt began as pro-reform protests but morphed into an armed insurgency when demonstrations were brutally crushed. Most rebels, like the population, are Sunni in a country dominated by a minority Alawite regime. Alawites are an offshoot of Shiite Islam.