- Associated Press - Monday, October 8, 2012

BEIRUT — The Turkish military retaliated with artillery fire for a sixth straight day Monday after a Syrian shell hit its territory, and Turkey’s president warned that “the worst-case scenario we have all been dreading” is unfolding in Syria and along its borders.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul called on the international community to do more to try to end Syria’s nearly 19-month-old conflict, which has claimed more than 20,000 lives and — with Turkey-Syria tensions rising — heightened fears of a regional conflagration.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday warned that the escalating conflict on the Syrian-Turkish border is “extremely dangerous.”

The main Syrian opposition group, meanwhile, signaled it is softening its position on possible talks to arrange a political transition.

In the past, the Syrian National Council has said that President Bashar Assad and his inner circle must step down before such talks can begin.

However, the Syrian National Council chief said Monday that talks would be possible with members of the regime who do not have blood on their hands.

In the latest cross-border incident, a Syrian artillery shell fell on Turkey’s border province of Hatay on Monday, the provincial governor’s office said.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said the round landed in a cotton field near the town of Altinozu. People were working in the field but no one was injured, Anadolu said.

Turkey retaliated Monday, as it did on five previous days, the governor’s office said. Last week, after deadly cross-border shelling, Ankara warned Mr. Assad that it will respond to each shell or mortar round that hits Turkish soil.

Turkey also sent more artillery to hot spots along the troubled border on Monday, Turkish media reported.

The persistent Syrian shelling suggests the cross-border fire of recent days is not accidental. Turkey, along with other foreign allies of the Syrian opposition, is reluctant to intervene militarily in Syria, and Damascus’ military strategy relies, in part, on the high threshold for foreign intervention.

Mr. Gul, the Turkish president, described Syria’s civil war and its regional impact as the “worst-case scenario that we’ve all been dreading,” adding that along with the suffering of the Syrian people, “once in a while we’re also affected.”

Speaking to reporters in Ankara, Mr. Gul also said the situation in Syria must not be allowed to continue.

“Sooner rather than later there will be change, a transition,” he said. “Our only hope is that this happens before more blood is shed, and before Syria self-destructs more than it already has. It’s also crucial that the international community act in a more effective way.”

Efforts to get the two sides to negotiate a peaceful transition have failed up to now.

However, the head of the Syrian National Council, Abdulbaset Sieda, said Monday he would not oppose a role for members of Mr. Assad’s ruling Baath party in the country’s political future as long as they did not participate in killings during the uprising.

He told the Associated Press that the council will meet next week in Qatar and will discuss, among other things, the possibility of Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa serving as interim leader if Mr. Assad were to step down.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Saturday that Mr. al-Sharaa is a figure “whose hands are not contaminated in blood” and therefore acceptable to Syrian opposition groups.



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