ISTANBUL -- Syrian government warplanes and artillery were reported Friday to have launched a ferocious barrage against the central city of Homs, while near the capital, Damascus, rebels said they captured an air defense base with a cache of surface-to-air missiles.
The fighting came a day after the bloody, 18-month conflict raised broad fears of regional repercussions, as Turkish artillery hit Syria for a second consecutive day Thursday after a mortar attack Wednesday that killed five Turkish civilians. Turkey's Parliament reinforced Ankara's resolute message by authorizing further military action against Syria.
The confrontation between the two countries along the divide between the NATO alliance and the Arab world threatened to escalate a confrontation that has highlighted Turkey's fraught double role, as it tries to stay out of direct involvement in the fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad while offering haven and support to the rebels.
Inside war-battered Syria, Friday's bombardment of Homs by airstrikes, tank and mortar fire subjected rebel strongholds to their heaviest bombardment in months, according to The Associated Press, quoting activists. Some analysts suggested that the focus on big cities such as Homs, and Aleppo farther north, showed that the government was maintaining its focus on urban warfare rather than regional maneuvering.
Anti-government activists also reported that security forces, led by 4,000 Republican Guards, stormed the Qudsaya area on Damascus' outskirts, after shelling of the area Thursday. The area is on the hills above Damascus, near the presidential palace, and is a key area where the government wants to maintain control.
For their part, the insurgents said Friday that they fought back against government advances, capturing an air defense base with a cache of missiles Thursday. Reinforcing the claim, video posted on YouTube showed rebels clad in military uniforms in front of a military installation, with black smoke spiraling upward.
Another video showed a jubilant fighter, bearded, wearing a crisp camouflage flak vest and carrying a semi-automatic rifle, clambering onto a trailer carrying what appeared to be a surface-to-air missile. Off camera, a voice hails the man, Abu Khattab, as leader of the unit that claimed to have captured the base.
"Thank god! Praise god!" voices cry as he raises his rifle and screams: "Get out, Bashar, you're not strong enough to carry a missile!"
Yet another video, which purported to document the shooting down of a Syrian warplane near the base Friday, showed an out-of-control aircraft in the distance tumbling from a low altitude, followed by a burst of thick black smoke, presumably from the impact. There was no means of independently verifying the claims or the videos since access to Syria is severely restricted.
There were no immediate reports Friday of further Turkish artillery strikes, but reporters in the border area said civilians seemed to be avoiding places near the frontier for fear of further exchanges.