A Syrian argues with a Turkish soldier while trying to cross the border during a bombardment that killed 18 people.

A Syrian argues with a Turkish soldier while trying to cross the border during a bombardment that killed 18 people.

THOUSANDS of people have fled the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn for the safety of Turkey as the battle between Syrian rebels and government troops raged for a fifth day.

Across the border in Ceylanpinar, Turkey, loudspeakers warned residents to stay indoors as Syrian jets and artillery raked rebel positions just a few hundred metres from Turkish territory, their shockwaves shattering windows. At least one Syrian shell reportedly landed in Ceylanpinar.

Turkish soldiers watched from foxholes and tried to help the refugees, who crossed the border unimpeded except for some who became tangled in barbed wire.

Most were ferried to a camp about 15 kilometres away by buses provided by the Turkish government, which made trip after trip throughout the day.

The attack demolished at least 15 buildings and killed many civilians, Nezir Alan, a doctor who witnessed the bombing, said. A rebels spokesman said at least 18 civilians were killed. It was unclear how many fighters died.

''We pulled bodies of 12 people from the rubble and are now trying to reach bodies of eight others,'' Dr Alan said. ''There are around 70 injured, 50 of whom were in critical condition, and they are being transferred to Turkish hospitals across the border.''

Turkish fighter jets were seen in Turkish airspace shortly after the explosion, and a Syrian helicopter hovered above Ras al-Ayn.

''The plane appeared in seconds, dropped a bomb and killed children. Here is total chaos,'' Dr Alan said.

On Friday, more than 10,000 people reportedly fled Syria for Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey - the highest single-day total of refugees since the conflict began. More than 8000 of those fled to Ceylanpinar from Ras al-Ayn. A rebel spokesman in Ras al-Ayn said it was possible many more fled on Monday.

Residents of Ceylanpinar have opened their homes to the refugees, some of whom had tried to return to Syria before fighting prompted them to flee again.

''We have dozens of people staying in our house,'' said 17-year-old Orhan Ahmed, who watched the fighting from the Turkish side of the border with friends.

Despite warnings to stay indoors, hundreds of residents were on the streets, watching the bombardment.

At least one air strike hit a predominantly Kurdish neighbourhood in Ras al-Ayn, which has a sizeable Kurdish minority. There were also reports of tensions between rebel fighters and Kurdish militiamen loyal to the United Democratic Party, a Syrian Kurdish party with close links to the Turkish Kurdish Worker's Party or PKK.

The PKK has fought a decades-long war with the Turkish government seeking autonomy for millions of Kurds who live in southern Turkey.

In the past few weeks, Syrian rebels and United Democratic Party militiamen have fought each other in northern Syria, including open fighting and tit-for-tat kidnappings in Aleppo, the country's largest city.

The fractious opposition in Syria says it has been promised western military support in return for forming a united front, before a donors' conference in London on Friday aiming to consolidate the rebel coalition.

British officials say the conference will discuss purely non-lethal aid to the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, formed on Sunday in Doha, but neither British nor French officials are ruling out arming the opposition in the coming months in an attempt to break the bloody deadlock in Syria. MCT, AGENCIES