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Turkey and Syria still trading fire

Turkey and Syria have traded artillery fire for the fourth day in a row as rebels clashed with Syrian president Bashar Assad's forces near the border, heightening fears that the crisis could erupt into a regional conflict.

Also, Syrian defence minister General Fahd Jassem al-Freij vowed to crush the rebellion and bring the violence that has engulfed the country to an end.

The diplomatic crisis began on Wednesday when a Syrian shell killed five civilians in a Turkish border town and triggered unprecedented artillery strikes by Turkey. Ankara has deployed more troops to its southern border with Syria, and has responded to each shell that has struck Turkish soil with its own artillery barrage.

On Friday, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cautioned Damascus not to test Turkey's "limits and determination" and said Ankara was not bluffing in saying it will not tolerate such acts.

Saturday's cross-border exchange began when two mortar shells fired from Syria landed in rural areas near the Turkish village of Guvecci, prompting Turkish return fire, Turkey's media reported.

Later, a third shell hit near another village in Turkey's Hatay province and Turkish troops fired back, the office of the provincial governor said. No casualties were reported.

Relations between Turkey and Syria, once strong allies, deteriorated sharply after the uprising against Assad began in March last year. Turkey became one of the harshest critics of Assad's crackdown while Syria accused Ankara of aiding rebels.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkey's state television TRT that "from now on whenever there is an attack on Turkey, it will be silenced".

Also on Saturday, Assad made a rare public appearance when he laid a wreath at the country's Unknown Soldier statue in Damascus to mark the anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel, also known in Syria as the October War. Syrian state television broadcast the ceremony and likened the current crisis to the war with Israel.

Damascus denies it is facing a popular uprising, instead blaming the violence on a foreign conspiracy linked to its support for anti-Israeli groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah.

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