Mourners in Turkey carry the coffin of one of the victims of a car-bomb attack… (Bulent Kilic / AFP/Getty…)
BEIRUT -- Syria on Sunday rejected Turkish charges that Damascus was behind a pair of devastating car-bomb attacks in the southern Turkish town of Reyhanli that killed 46 people and left scores injured.
The strikes have stunned Turkey and exacerbated already-high tensions between the neighboring nations about the civil war raging inside Syria.
Turkish officials have publicly linked the bombings to Syria’s intelligence service -- a charge denied Sunday by Omran al-Zoubi, the Syrian information minister.
“No one has the right in Turkey to issue arbitrary accusations against Syria regarding the bombings,” Zoubi told reporters in Damascus. “Syria has not and will not conduct such behavior.”
Turkish authorities have arrested nine Turkish citizens in connection with the attack, Associated Press reported.
Behind the strikes was an unnamed organization close to the Syrian secret service, known as the mukhabarat, Turkish officials told reporters.
“We have established that the organization and assailants have links to the pro-regime mukhabarat organization,” Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said.
The harsh invective emanating from the two nations following the bombings has raised fears that Turkey could be dragged more directly into Syria’s more than two-year civil conflict.
Turkey has strongly supported Syrian rebels seeking to oust President Bashar Assad. The Turkish border zone, especially the southern province of Hatay, which includes Reyhanli, has become a logistics, training and arms-supply center for Syrian opposition fighters. The two nations share a more than 500-mile frontier.
The town of Reyhanli, situated only a few miles from the Syrian border, is a hub for both Syrian refugees and Syrian rebel activities.
Ankara's active role in the Syrian civil war has been extremely controversial inside Turkey. While many Turks support their government's decision to aid the Syrian rebels, others have assailed the policy as perilous and ill-advised.
In Hatay province, Turkish members of the Alawite Muslim sect have voiced strong support for Syria’s Assad, who is himself a member of the Alawite sect. Some opposition parties in Turkey have also opposed the government’s role in Syria.
Updated numbers from Saturday’s twin bombings put the death toll in Reyhanli at 46, while more than 50 injured remained hospitalized, including several in critical condition. Authorities said two bomb-laden cars were involved.
On Sunday, forensic teams were sifting through the damage—which stretched for several blocks in central Reyhanli -- seeking clues to the bombing, the Turkish press reported, and security was beefed up in the town. Meanwhile, Turkish media reported that funerals for some of those killed had begun.