A convoy of buses carrying Turkish Muslim pilgrims was attacked by gunmen as they crossed through central Syria, according to Turkish media.
At least two people, including a bus driver, were wounded in the assault which occurred at a checkpoint near the city of Homs, the vortex of the eight-month long revolt against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
An official of Turkey’s foreign ministry told Agence France Presse: We confirm that an attack took place in Syria, but did not provide any details.
However, Turkish government officials repeated their advisory against its citizens travelling to Syria.
The buses were returning from the holy Islamic pilgrimage site of Mecca in Saudi Arabia and later arrived safely in Turkey.
One of the drivers, Erhan Surmeli, told Associated Press: We had stopped at a checkpoint. Syrian soldiers emerged from behind sandbags and cursed [Turkish Prime Minister] Recep Tayyip Erdogan when we told them we were Turks. Then they suddenly opened fire at the bus.
Bus passengers who reached Cizre, a Turkish city near the Syrian border, told Dogan, a Turkish media outlet, that they were told to disembark at a checkpoint by up to eight Syrian soldiers. One Turkish passenger claimed that the soldiers began firing randomly at pilgrims as they tried to flee the bus.
“They were hidden in their hideouts ... these were soldiers, these were not civilians, their flags were there,” a male passenger said.
“One of the soldiers said, ‘Come, come', he wanted to get me inside. I didn't go inside. I had nothing in my hands; there were seven or eight of them. He cocked his gun at me and said, ‘Put your hands up.'... I shouted for everyone to run, we ran and they started firing at our backs. God saved us.”
Another passenger told Dogan: “We have returned from death. We have returned from death.”
NTV reported that the wounded are being treated in a hospital in Antakya, in Turkey's Hatay province.
Erdogan, formerly an ally and friend of Assad, has turned against the Damascus regime over its brutal crackdown against anti-government protesters -- a campaign of violence that has killed at least 3,500 since March, according to the United Nations.
The Turkish government has repeatedly condemned the violence and recently upped the tension by endorsing a measure by the Arab League to suspend Syria’s membership. That act led to attacks on Turkish embassies and consulates across Syria by those still loyal to Assad.