CAIRO AND WASHINGTON
— Turkey launched a new retaliatory strike Monday after a mortar bomb fired from Syria hit the Turkish countryside as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned of "extremely dangerous" fallout from the escalating border conflict.
Ban also said he is "deeply concerned" about the continuing flow of weapons to the Syrian government and opposition forces and the impact of the Syrian crisis on neighboring Lebanon. He reiterated calls for a political solution, which he said is the "only way" to resolve the crisis that began in March of last year.
The Turkish strike against Syrian positions for the sixth straight day came after a shell landed in a Turkish border area in southern Hatay province. The latest mortar round from Syria landed 150 meters within Turkey's border in the district of Hacipasa, according to Turkish officials.
VOA's Scott Bobb reports from the Turkish-Syria border that Turkish public opinion is generally against military action, especially a unilateral push from Ankara.
"Opinion polls show that a great many Turks oppose a military incursion into Syria," he said. "And there's even now some debate in parliament and among the political parties over just how much to get involved in this: 'is this dragging Turkey down, is this risking Turkish stability?'"
Bobb traveled through mostly rebel-held territory in northwest Syria on Monday and found opposition supporters - who have endured months of brutal conflict - clamoring for foreign help.
"Among the rebels and their supporters, they want intervention," he said. "They're asking why hasn't the international community done something to help us. We're being bombed and mortared and we have no defenses against aerial attacks."
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Monday that "worst-case scenarios" were taking place in Syria and urged the international community to act.
As tensions simmered between the two neighbors, Syrian Information Minister Omran Zahbi said that Damascus is not responsible for security along the border.
Zahbi said Turkey and not Syria is responsible for keeping the peace along the border, because Ankara has allowed rebel fighters to set up bases and infiltrate into Syria in large numbers.
Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, said that while Syria may want to export its crisis to neighboring countries, he does not think that the mortar rounds over the border were fired to deliberately provoke a crisis.
"The Syrian Army is retaliating, mostly using mortars," Khashan said. "Mortars are not very accurate. I do not really believe the Syrians are trying to provoke the Turkish side. You cannot avoid having one or another round falling on the Turkish border because most fighting occurs along the border."
Syrian government forces continued to pound rebel-held territory in the flashpoint city of Homs and elsewhere across the country Monday in a military offensive which showed no signs of letting up.
Outer districts of the capital Damascus were hit from both the air and ground.
Rebel fighters also clashed with government forces in Idlib province near the Turkish border over control of several towns and villages.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
reported more than 60 people were killed Monday in clashes across Syria, including 20 in southern Daraa province when the army launched an intensive assault on the town of Karak.
The opposition group said Monday's death toll includes 31 unarmed civilians, 18 government troops and 11 rebel fighters.
Opposition to meet
As fighting continued, the head of Syria's opposition Syrian National Council, Abdulbaset Sieda, told Arab TV channels his group would soon meet in Qatar to discuss various political proposals.
Sieda said the council will consider all proposals on the table to unite efforts and work for a political transition, adding that officials who defected and have no blood on their hands are free to participate in the discussions.
Sieda said someone "who has been with the revolution since it began" should lead the transition.
On Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu proposed Vice President Farouk al Sharaa should lead an interim government.
Yeranian reported from Cairo and Snowiss from Washington