BEIRUT -- Turkish artillery fired shells into Syria for the fourth day in a row on Saturday, retaliating for mortars that landed on Turkish soil. Rebels clashed with Syrian government troops near the border amid renewed fears that the Syrian crisis could spiral into a regional conflict.
Also Saturday, Syrian Defense Minister Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij said the rebellion against President Bashar Assad's regime will be crushed and that the violence that has engulfed the country will soon end.
The latest shelling comes a day after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cautioned Damascus not to test Turkey's "limits and determination" and insisted that his country "was not bluffing" with its warnings.
The crisis began on Wednesday, when a Syrian shell killed five civilians in a Turkish border town and triggered unprecedented artillery strikes by Turkey, coupled with warnings that Turkey would no longer tolerate such acts. 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 Saturday, two mortar shells landed in rural areas near the Turkish village of Guvecci, prompting Turkish return fire, Turkey's media reported. The first exchange happened shortly after intense fighting broke out across the border in Syria's Idlib province between Syrian rebels and regime forces, the private Dogan news agency reported. There were no reported casualties.
A Turkish army unit based near Guvecci promptly responded, firing four 81mm mortars in the first instance and two shells in the second, it said.
The governor's office indicated that the Syrian mortar had landed in Turkey accidentally, saying it was believed "to be have been fired by the forces of the Syrian Arab Republic at Syrian rebel groups on the Syrian side of the border."
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels had attacked army positions in the Syrian villages of Khirbet al-Jouz and Darkoush about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Guvecci. Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said both sides were exchanging mortar fire.
The Observatory added that rebels later took over Khirbet el-Jouz and were advancing toward army positions in nearby areas. It said dozens of soldiers were either killed or wounded while three rebels died in the fighting.
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 Saturday, Assad made a rare public appearance when he laid a wreath at the country's Unknown Soldier statue in Damascus to mark the 1973 war with Israel, also known in Syria as the October War. Syrian state television broadcast the ceremony.