WASHINGTON — The United States condemned Syria on Wednesday for the "depraved" shelling of a Turkish border town that left five dead, and said it was closely following the "dangerous" situation.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other officials voiced solidarity with Ankara and anger with the Syrian regime over shells that hit the Turkish town of Akcakale. The dead included a mother and her three children.
The incident marked the first time Turkey's citizens were killed by cross-border fire from its war-torn neighbor, but US officials did not say whether the attack could move NATO closer to any action in support of Ankara, a member of the transatlantic alliance.
"This is yet another example of the depraved behavior of the Syrian regime, and why it must go," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in an email.
"We regret the loss of life in Turkey, a strong ally, and continue to monitor the situation closely."
Turkey retaliated with return fire, as NATO states held an emergency meeting to express support for Ankara while urging Syria to respect international law.
In Washington, Clinton spoke by phone with her Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, and promised that Washington would fully back Ankara, the State Department said.
"She pledged the United States' strong support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our Turkish ally" and vowed to side with Turkey in the UN Security Council, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
Clinton earlier called the tensions on the border "dangerous" and denounced Syria for its shell fire.
"We are outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across the border. We are very regretful about the loss of life on the Turkish side," the top US diplomat told reporters.
She voiced concern at the "very, very dangerous" situation.
The United States has urged its ally Turkey privately to exercise restraint while calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down in the face of a bloody rebellion raging since March 2011.
The White House renewed US demands for Assad to quit power but did not indicate whether Ankara was asking the United States and other fellow NATO members to prepare military action on its behalf.
"The Assad regime has inflicted unconscionable suffering on its own people," said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.
"All responsible nations must make clear that it is long past time for Assad to step aside, declare a ceasefire and begin the long-overdue political transition process."
President Barack Obama's administration has approved sending radios and other non-lethal equipment to Syria's rebel forces but has expressed reluctance over any military intervention.
Turkey, once a strong ally of Syria, broke with Damascus after the regime began cracking down on dissent, in a conflict that monitoring groups say has claimed more than 31,000 lives.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Syria of becoming a "terrorist state" carrying out massacres of its own people.
Turkish-Syrian ties further deteriorated after Syria shot down a Turkish jet fighter in June, prompting Ankara to shutter its 560-mile (900-kilometer) border with tanks and anti-aircraft missiles.
Syria said it was looking into the origin of the cross-border shelling.
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