WASHINGTON – The United States expressed strong support for Turkey Friday as it took military action to respond to Syrian attacks on its border.

“We do certainly stand behind Turkey as they take that action because we believe that action is appropriate,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said when asked about the recent flare-up between the two countries.

Turkey returned fire Friday after a mortar fired from Syria landed in the southern part of the country. On Wednesday and Thursday, the Turkish army bombarded Syrian military targets after five civilians were killed by a Syrian shelling earlier in the week.

The Turkish parliament has authorized the military to engage in cross-border action should there be further Syrian attacks.

The violence is threatening to turn the internal Syrian conflict into a regional war.

Earnest also said that the United States “condemns the violence and the aggressive actions of the Syrians.”

NATO has passed a resolution condemning the violence, as did the UN Security Council. But UN Security Council permanent member and Syria ally Russia has called for restraint on the part of Turkey, as has Iran.

Earnest referred to Turkey’s actions as “designed to ensure that their sovereignty is no longer violated by Syrian aggression.”

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan warned on Friday his country was "not far" from war with Syria following the cross-border attacks.

In a belligerent speech to a crowd in Istanbul, Erdogan warned the Assad government it would be making a fatal mistake if it picked a fight with Turkey.

"We are not interested in war, but we're not far from it either," Erdogan said in his speech. "Those who attempt to test Turkey's deterrence, its decisiveness, its capacity, I say here they are making a fatal mistake."

The cross-border violence was the most serious so far in the conflict, now in its 19th month, and underscored how it could flare across the region.

Turkey, once an Assad ally and now a leading voice in calls for him to quit, shelters more than 90,000 Syrian refugees in camps on its territory and has allowed rebel army leaders sanctuary.

Violence has also spilled over into Lebanon.

More than 30,000 people have been killed in the revolt against Assad, which began with peaceful street protests but is now a full-scale civil war also fought on sectarian lines.


Reuters contributed to this report.

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