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Turkey, Syria Tensions Rise After Attack on Pilgrims

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan chats with Head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate Mehmet Gormez (R) during the summit of religious leaders from Muslim countries and communities in Africa at the Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, Nov

Tensions between former close allies and neighbors Turkey and Syria continue to escalate as Syrian forces are being accused of attacking a bus of Turkish pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia on Monday. The incident comes as the Turkish prime minister launched another verbal condemnation of Syria.

Two Turkish citizens were wounded when a convoy of buses carrying pilgrims in northern Syria were attacked by gunmen, furthering tensions between Syria and Turkey. Pictures of the bus with numerous bullet holes in it were broadcast on Turkish media. The affiliation of the gunmen is not clear.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry confirmed the attack. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the end is coming for the Syrian leadership and its forces, who have led the government's eight-month-long crackdown on opposition protests.

Mr. Erdogan said Syria's leaders can remain in power with tanks and cannons only up to a certain point. He said the day will come when they will also leave.

The attack is the latest incident in a growing diplomatic divide. Last week, Syrian protestors attacked several Turkish diplomatic missions, resulting in the evacuations of diplomatic families.

Ankara has been playing a leading role in helping the Syrian opposition, hosting some key leaders and defectors from the Syrian military who are now spearheading a militia effort in Syria known as the Syria Free Army.

But there is growing concern in Turkey over Ankara's leading role against Syria. International relations professor Murat Bilhan, a former official in the Turkish Foreign Ministry, says tensions with Syria are making some in the Turkish armed forces nervous.

But the Syrian opposition is increasingly looking to Ankara to take a more active role against Damascus. The leaders of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood last week called for Turkey to enforce a buffer zone in Syria to protect opponents of the government.

Bassma Kodmani, a leader with the opposition Syrian National Council, says creating safe haven areas in Syria is vital.

"We know that there are very strong demands for the establishing [of] safe havens, for the civilian population to take refuge," said Kodmani. "Therefore, the pressure is on the Arab League, neighboring countries and international parties to consider the option for the protection of civilians."

For now though, Ankara has ruled out any direct intervention, preferring to join a growing international tide of sanctions and economic curbs against the Syrian government.