The Turkish army rolled out about two dozen tanks Wednesday in Nusaybin, a town of about 80,000 residents on the border with Syria and about 100 miles west of Iraq, in a display of military might aimed at sending a message to Kurdish separatists that Turkey will not tolerate an expansion of the rebel movement into its territory.

However, it may be too late.

Rebels backed by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, in Syria have seized at least five border towns, according to the Turkish government and media reports. Rebels in this part of Syria could potentially receive material support from ethnic compatriots in northern Iraq.

Turkish media reported that two soldiers were killed Wednesday in clashes with Kuridsh rebels in Lice, about 144 miles north of where the military is conducting its military exercises. Skirmishes have also been reported in Semdinli, about 290 miles east of Nusaybin and only 24 miles from the Kurdish region in Iraq.

''This is a routine exercise, it will continue for a few days,'' provincial governor Turhan Ayvaz told the local media about the military exercise, according to the Associated Press.

But the recent heightened presence of Turkish military along the Syrian border suggests Turkey will not hesitate, as it has said, to enter Syria if it perceives Kurdish militia there to be a threat.

"It is not possible to expect Turkey to act as if nothing is happening," one government official told the New York Times.

Ankara is concerned about the growing control by Kurdish rebels in northeastern Syria. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was scheduled to visit the Kurdish region of Iraq on Wednesday to urge them not to support the PYD, and on Tuesday.

"We're like one town separated by a fence," Nusaybin's Mayor Ayse Gokkan told Time's Piotr Zalewski, referring to Qamishli, the Kurdish town right across the border in Syria.

Turkey, which opposes Syrian President Bashar al Assad and has allowed Free Syria Army commanders conduct operations from inside its borders, is also a fierce opponent of the Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey.

Meanwhile, Assad issued his first statement in two weeks, warning that the fate of the country lies in the military's victory over "armed terrorist gangs."

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has been closely tracking developments, estimates that at least 20,000 people have been killed in the 17-month-old conflict.