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Syria rebukes Turkey as sides trade artillery fire

Tensions escalate over comments on post-Assad ruler

Children played on a destroyed Syrian government armored personnel carrier Monday in Azaz near the Turkish border.

Zain Karam /Reuters

Children played on a destroyed Syrian government armored personnel carrier Monday in Azaz near the Turkish border.

NEW YORK — Syria escalated tensions with Turkey on Monday, accusing its neighbor and former friend of imperialist delusions harking back to the centuries of Ottoman dynastic rule, as Syrian Army gunners exchanged artillery blasts with their Turkish counterparts across the border for the sixth consecutive day.

Both insurgent sympathizers and the Syrian government described an extremely violent day in the nearly 19-month-old uprising in the country, with unverified accounts of killings and destruction in the embattled cities of Aleppo, Homs, Daraa, and in northern Idlib Province.

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In Idlib, members of the rebel Free Syrian Army claimed to have discovered a massacre committed by security forces at a makeshift prison.

There were also signs that the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, which has been plagued by leadership dysfunction and factionalism, was attempting to make itself more relevant to a future political solution by convening a special conference next week in Doha, Qatar.

In what appeared to be part of that effort, the council’s president, Abdulbaset Sieda, was quoted in an interview with the Associated Press as saying the group would not rule out a future role for any members of President Bashar Assad’s government, as long as they had not ordered or participated in killings, which by some estimates have left more than 30,000 Syrians dead.

Sieda’s assertion seemed to soften the group’s previous position that all members of ­Assad’s government were tainted and must go as part of any political solution to the conflict, which has shown no sign of easing. Sieda specifically mentioned the Syrian vice president, Farouk al-Sharaa, as a possible interim leader to replace Assad.

That suggestion was also broached over the weekend by the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmed Davutoglu, who said Sharaa’s hands ‘‘are not contaminated in blood.’’ But that idea was derisively dismissed Monday by Syria’s information minister, Omran al-Zoubi, in a reaction reported by the official Syrian Arab News Agency.

Zoubi accused the Turkish government of behaving as though it had reverted to the geopolitics of Ottoman dominance that shaped the Middle East for more than 600 years, before that monarchy was abolished in 1922.

‘‘Turkey isn’t the Ottoman Sultanate,’’ Zoubi was quoted by the agency as saying. ‘‘The Turkish Foreign Ministry doesn’t name custodians in Damascus, Mecca, Cairo, and Jerusalem.’’

Zoubi said the Turkish foreign minister’s statements reflected ‘‘obvious political and diplomatic confusion and blundering.’’

From the outset of the Syrian crisis, Turkey has tried to position itself as a major player and power-broker — something some observers say was a miscalculation based on overconfidence in Ankara’s influence over Damascus.

As recently as April, Davutoglu told Parliament that Turkey ‘‘will continue to guide the wave of change in the Middle East.’’

President Abdullah Gul of Turkey made a new push Monday for a Syrian transition, warning that ‘‘the worst-case scenario we have all been dreading’’ is unfolding in Syria and along its borders.

‘‘Sooner rather than later there will be change, a transition,’’ he said in Ankara. ‘‘Our only hope is that this happens before more blood is shed, and before Syria self-destructs more than it already has.’’

The verbal exchanges between the Syrian and Turkish government coincided with reports that Turkey had shelled Syrian targets Monday after a Syrian shell hit the Altinozu district of Hatay Province. The semiofficial Anatolian News Agency said there were no injuries.

Turkish and Syrian troops have been firing shells across the border at each other since Wednesday, after a Syrian mortar shell killed five civilians in Turkey, a NATO member. The shelling has raised fears that the unrest in Syria will broaden into a regional war.

Also Monday, a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb near a compound of the Syrian intelligence service on the outskirts of Damascus, a Syrian official said. There was no immediate word on casualties, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The pro-government Al-Ikhbariya channel said the explosion in the Harasta suburb was followed by armed clashes. Syrian rebels are increasingly targeting security compounds in Damascus, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday’s blast.

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