Turkish security forces detain 11 Syrian soldiers fleeing to Turkey
Intense fighting between opposition fighters and Syrian government forces began this week in Azmarin and neighboring towns in an area strongly opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's rule, and the opposition forces appeared to have a hold over the area.
"Praise be, the town is now in our hands... We have raised two flags inside the town and the battles are over. Azmarin is completely under our control," one resident, who did not want to be named, was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The soldiers, loyal to Assad, are reported to have fled across the Orontes river, which forms a natural frontier along this section of the Turkish-Syrian border, with some in rowboats and some others swimming.
After they entered the Turkish village of Hacıpaşa, directly across from Azmarin, the soldiers were detained by military officers from the Hacıpaşa military outpost, which is affiliated with Turkey's 5th Frontier Corps.
Five of them were taken to the Hatay Mustafa Kemal University Hospital for treatment, while the remaining six were taken to the military outpost.
According to unconfirmed reports, the Foreign Affairs and Interior ministries convened to discuss the issue and decided to set up a special camp for the Syrian government soldiers who flee into Turkey.
The town of Azmarin was also the scene of a bombing by a Syrian military helicopter on Friday, prompting Turkey to scramble two fighter jets to the border.
A day earlier, shells fired onto the town from surrounding hills sent thick plumes of smoke and dust rising into the air and a voice amplified through loudspeakers, audible from Hacıpaşa, called on opposition fighters to surrender, warning of an air assault.
Fighting along Turkey's 900-kilometer border with Syria has repeatedly spilled over into Turkish territory in recent days, with the Turkish army responding in kind to gunfire and mortar shells fired from Syria.
Turkish Chief of Staff General Necdet Özel said on Wednesday his troops would respond "with greater force" if the shells continued to land on Turkish soil, and Parliament last week authorized the deployment of troops beyond Turkey, heightening fears that Syria's civil war would drag in regional powers.