REYHANLI, Turkey — Two car bombs killed at least 43 people and raised tensions between Turks and Syrians in Reyhanli, on the Syrian-Turkish border, which is a hub for refugees fleeing the fighting and rebels who use the area to resupply fighters inside Syria.
The first bomb appeared to target the municipal offices in Reyhanli. A second, larger bomb went off near a traffic circle in a neighborhood that has in the past year become home to thousands of Syrians fleeing the war. The second blast tore off one side of a five-story building, destroyed a number of cars and ignited several fires.
Turkish officials blamed the attacks, which also wounded 140 people, on a group linked to Syria. A deputy prime minister called neighboring Syria’s intelligence service and military “the usual suspects.”
Some Turkish residents of Reyhanli vented anger toward Syrians after the blasts. Turks and Syrians both were reportedly among the dead.
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“Damn all of you!” one Turkish man shouted at a Syrian man near the site of the second blast, before becoming slightly calmer and urging him to get off the street before someone attacked him.
Down the street from the first explosion, members of the media office for a Syrian rebel group drew and locked their shutters as Turkish men across the street chased a Syrian man. One person could be observed throwing rocks at cars with Syrian license plates.
No group claimed responsibility for the blasts, though suspicion fell upon the Syrian government. Some Turkish officials blamed the Syrian government directly.
The blasts, which were 15 minutes apart, raised fears Turkey increasingly could be drawn into Syria’s civil war.
Turkey already hosts Syria’s political opposition and rebel commanders, has given shelter to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and has retaliated against Syrian shells that landed in Turkey.
Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said the assailants were from Turkey, but were linked to Syria’s intelligence service. “We have established that the organization and assailants have links to the pro-regime mukhabarat (intelligence) organization,” he said.
He did not name the group, but said the aim of the attack was to pit Turks against Syrian refugees in Reyhanli.
Earlier, another deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc said: “Our thoughts are that their mukhabarat and armed organizations are the usual suspects in planning and the carrying out of such devilish plans.”
About 200,000 Syrians live in refugee camps run by the Turkish government in southern Turkey, and tens of thousands more have come to the area. That has created tensions, particularly in Hatay province, where Reyhanli is located.
Until 1939, Hatay was a part of Syria, and it contains a significant population of Alawites, adherents of the same sect of Islam to which Syria’s ruling family belongs. Perhaps nowhere in Turkey is there greater opposition to the Turkish government’s support of the Syrian rebellion than in Hatay, and particularly so in Antakya, the provincial capital, west of Reyhanli.
Reyhanli, however, does not have a significant Alawite population, and the anger directed at Syrians on Saturday was indicative of a more general feeling among Turks that the refugees have brought trouble with them. Some landlords refuse to rent apartments to Syrians, and last year the Turkish government moved to restrict Syrians to the refugee camps, a decision that quickly fell by the wayside as difficult to enforce.
The explosions came days before Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is scheduled to travel to the U.S. for talks, which are expected to be dominated by the situation in Syria. The car bombings also follow accusations by Erdogan that the Syrian government has fired about 200 missiles tipped with chemical weapons.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.