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Syrian warplanes bomb town next to Turkish border

Dec. 16, 2012 6:22 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 17, 2012 7:53 A.M.)
ISTANBUL (Reuters) -- Syrian warplanes bombed the town of Azaz close to the Turkish border on Sunday, destroying at least five homes, causing hundreds of people to flee and stirring panic at a Syrian refugee camp just inside Turkey, Turkish officials said.

Most of the bombs hit the center of Azaz, around three kilometers from the Turkish border in an area dominated by Syrian rebels, but at least one landed 500 meters from Turkish soil, one official said.

"It is very close to the Turkish border ... There was also some bombing in the center of Azaz. Around 500 people were trying to come into Turkey," he said.

Asked if there had been any response from the Turkish military, which has frequently scrambled fighter jets along the border and fired back in kind when stray Syrian shells hit its soil, the official said: "Not yet."

Explosions could be heard several kilometers inside Turkish territory, unnerving people in a refugee camp in the Turkish town of Kilis where some fear they could still be a target of Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

"The Assad warplanes followed the refugees ... They fired rockets and people were very scared, they felt they would be massacred," a Syrian rebel fighter told Reuters after speaking to his brother inside the camp.

Turkey is loath to be drawn into a regional conflict but frequent proximity of Syrian air raids to the border is testing its pledge to defend itself from any violation of its territory or any spillover of violence from Syria.

NATO last week accepted Turkey's request to deploy Patriot anti-missile batteries along the border to reinforce its air defenses against possible attack from Syria. The United States, Germany and the Netherlands are to send six Patriot batteries in all.

Several Scud missiles fired at rebels by Syria have landed "fairly close" to the Turkish border, NATO's top military commander said on Friday, explaining why Patriot batteries are being stationed in Turkey.

Turkey is a staunch supporter of the uprising against Assad and has harbored both Syrian refugees and rebels.
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