Bombs Go Off In Turkish Border Town, Killing Dozens

Reyhanli, Turkey -

Bombing raises Turkish-Syrian tensions

A pair of car bombs killed 46 people and raised tensions between Turks and Syrians in this city on the Syrian-Turkish border that is a hub for refugees fleeing the fighting and rebels who use the area to resupply fighters inside Syria.

The first of the bombs appeared to target the municipal offices in Reyhanli. A second, larger bomb went off near a traffic circle in a neighborhood that in the past year has become home to thousands of Syrians fleeing the war. The second blast tore off one side of a five-story building and destroyed a number of cars, as well as starting fires.

Some Turkish residents of Reyhanli vented their anger at Syrians after the blasts. Turks and Syrians both were reportedly among the dead.

No group claimed responsibility for the blasts, though suspicion immediately fell upon the Syrian government, and some Turkish officials blamed the Syrian government directly. Nor has there been a claim of responsibility for a car bombing in February at the Syrian-Turkish border crossing a few miles from Reyhanli. That explosion killed 12 people.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that Turkey would not be drawn militarily in retaliation.

He insisted Turkey would “maintain our extreme cool-headedness in the face of efforts and provocations to drag us into the bloody quagmire.”

“Those who target Turkey will be held to account sooner or later,” he said. “Great states retaliate more powerfully, but when the time is right… We are taking our steps in a cool-headed manner.”

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.

It’s easy for Syrians to cross the border illegally into Turkey, and aid from the Turkish side enters Syria through a number of unofficial border crossings in the province, in addition to the official ones. Even with such lax border controls, the Turkish government is preventing thousands of Syrians from crossing into the country since it lacks sufficient space in the camps.

Earlier this month, Turkish residents of Reyhanli fought with Syrian residents of the city after Syrians burned a Turkish flag there, an act that some Syrians said was carried out by supporters of the Syrian government in a deliberate attempt to stoke tensions.

There was also tension last week on Turkey’s eastern border with Syria as gunmen from the Syrian side of the border killed two Turkish police officers near Acakale, an event possibly related to cross-border smuggling.