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Car bombs in Turkey kill at least 42 near Syria border

The blasts injure more than 140 in the town of Reyhanli, where there has been tension between Turks and Syrian refugees.

May 11, 2013|By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times

BEIRUT — At least 42 people were reported dead Saturday in a pair of car bombings in the southern Turkish town of Reyhanli, the latest apparent example of spillover violence from the conflict in nearby Syria.

More than 140 people were injured, with at least 20 in critical condition, according to Turkish officials and news reports.

The blasts reportedly caused panic in the town, where tension has arisen between Syrian refugees and Turkish residents. Reyhanli, in Hatay province, is just a few miles from the Syrian border and has been a magnet for Syrian refugees and rebels.

After the bombings, outraged Turks attacked Syrians and cars with Syrian license plates, according to reports from a resident and the BBC, which quoted local news reports.

Some Turks have objected to the influx of Syrian refugees and express fear that the region is being dragged into the Syrian conflict.

"I never witnessed any explosions when I was in Syria so they brought them here so I wouldn't miss out," said a Syrian woman, Fairouz, reached in her home in Reyhanli. "Today they are giving us many surprises."

Video from Reyhanli showed a chaotic scene of blasted debris, buildings with blown-out windows and dazed survivors amid smoking rubble.

Turkish authorities immediately linked the attacks to the civil war in Syria, now in its third year at a cost of more than 70,000 lives, according to United Nations estimates. But there was no definitive word on who was behind the attacks.

"Those who for whatever reason attempt to bring the external chaos into our country will get a response," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said from Berlin, according to the English-language website of the Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman.

The foreign minister labeled the attack a provocation. "There may be some powers who want to sabotage peace in Turkey," he said.

Past bombings in Turkey have involved groups such as Kurdish nationalists, left- and right-wing radicals and Al Qaeda-linked Islamic militants. Kurdish rebels have begun withdrawing from Turkey as part of a peace process between Ankara and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), aimed at ending a bloody 30-year conflict.

Turkey, which shares a border with Syria more than 500 miles long, has been a major backer of Syrian rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Assad. Arms and fighters for the rebel side regularly enter Syria from Turkish territory.

Reyhanli, a five-minute drive from the border, is a hub for rebel activity and intrigue, as is much of Hatay province. Wounded rebel fighters are taken across the border for medical treatment, new fighters infiltrate into Syria and arms deals for the rebels are cut in cafes and apartments.

The activity has caused resentment among many on the Turkish side, especially the large Turkish Alawite population, which generally supports Assad, himself a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The midafternoon blasts Saturday were caused by a pair of bomb-laden cars, Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler told reporters. Other reports indicated that three or four bombs had detonated, and that the town's municipal building was heavily damaged.

The bombings were the first reported major violence in Reyhanli since the Syrian civil war began. A car bomb in February killed 13 people and wounded more than a dozen at the nearby Bab Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria.

Syria-related violence is becoming more commonplace on Turkish soil.

In October, an apparently errant mortar round hit the Turkish border town of Akcakale, killing five Turkish civilians. The Turkish military began responding with artillery rounds fired into Syria whenever shells from Syria land on the Turkish side.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

Times staff writer Raja Abdulrahim in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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