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Strike from Syrian plane reported near border with Turkey

By Arwa Damon and Ivan Watson, CNN
updated 11:52 AM EST, Mon November 26, 2012
Syrian men display the remains of a bomb Monday in the village of Atimah, near the Turkish border, in Syria's Idlib province.
Syrian men display the remains of a bomb Monday in the village of Atimah, near the Turkish border, in Syria's Idlib province.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • No casualties were reported after two bombs hit fields near the Syrian village of Atimah
  • Bombing sent hundreds of civilians running for safety in an area considered a haven
  • NATO team is expected to consider deployment of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles at border
  • Tensions rose in the summer when Syria brought down a Turkish jet, killing two people

Bukulmez, Turkey (CNN) -- Syrian warplanes bombed a village within sight of the border with Turkey on Monday, sending hundreds of panicked civilians running for safety to a nearby barbed wire fence that separates the two countries.

No casualties were reported after two bombs hit fields next to the village of Atimah. "A MiG-21 tried to bomb places here, but they only bombed the fields," said an olive farmer in Atimah who asked to be called only Mohammed for security reasons. "We thank God for this because there are no dead people."

Read more: 10 children killed as warplanes drop bombs in Syria, opposition group says

Atimah is a major logistical hub for anti-government rebels and is a haven for more than 10,000 displaced civilians. Rebel commanders, residents and refugees assumed the village was relatively safe because it is close to Turkey.

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Bassel Haj Fareed, a teacher who runs a makeshift school in the main refugee camp in Atimah, described utter chaos after the first airstrike Monday. In a phone call with CNN, he said children and parents were running and screaming in panic after the explosion, trying to find one another while bolting for the nearby border.

The bombing took place a day before a NATO reconnaissance team was expected to survey the Turkish border with Syria, to prepare for the possible deployment of Patriot anti-aircraft missile batteries along the frontier.

Read more: Over 37,000 have died in Syria's civil war, opposition group says

The fact that Syrian warplanes and helicopters have bombed targets within a few hundred meters of Turkey on at least three different occasions within the last month raises the question of whether the NATO military alliance could be sucked into the grinding Syrian conflict.

Turkey and NATO insist the proposed Patriot missile deployment would be used only for defense.

"The deployment of the Air and Missile Defense System is a precaution for defensive purposes for possible air and missile threats from Syria, and is not for the establishment of a no-fly zone or for offensive maneuvers," the Turkish military said in a written statement Monday.

"The area of deployment for the Air and Missile Defense System, the quantity of the system, the number of foreign personnel that will come in to our country and the time of the deployment will be determined after the site survey."

Read more: 'Streets determining Middle East path'

Tensions exploded between Syria and Turkey last summer, when Syrian anti-aircraft fire brought down a Turkish military reconnaissance jet, killing its two crew members.

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Turkey announced it was changing its rules of engagement with Syria. Last October, the Turkish government also won authorization in parliament for possible cross-border military incursions into Syria, after Syrian mortar fire killed five civilians in the Turkish border town of Akcakale.

The Turkish military has scrambled warplanes to the border before, in response to Syrian aircraft approaching Turkish airspace. Turkish and Syrian military forces have also engaged in cross-border artillery duels since the Akcakale incident.

On Monday, a resident of Atimah claimed to have heard what sounded like Turkish warplanes approaching Syria in response to the Syrian aerial bombardment.

"We heard it, all the people heard it, because the jet's sound came from the west," the olive farmer called Mohammed said.

Turkish government officials have not confirmed or denied reports that Turkish warplanes may have been scrambled to the border.

But on Monday afternoon, CNN's Arwa Damon witnessed jets roaring overhead in Syrian and Turkish airspace, from her vantage point in the Turkish village of Bukulmez, directly across the border from Atimah.

She also saw what appeared to be smoke trails from rockets over the Bab al Hawa border crossing, which is just a few minutes drive from Atimah.

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