18 dead in Turkey car bombings near Syria border

Two explosive-laden cars blew up in a small Turkish town near the border with Syria on Saturday, killing 18 people in one of the deadliest recent attacks in the volatile area.

The bombings in the town of Reyhanli, just a few kilometres from the main border crossing into Syria, come amid increasingly bellicose criticism by Ankara of the regime in Damascus.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler said the explosions were caused by car bombs that blew up near the town hall and the post office in Reyhanli, according to the Anatolia news agency.

"Unfortunately, we are now at 18 dead and the number of wounded is also rising," he was quoted as saying by Anatolia.

"We are going to launch an inquiry into all this, so that everything becomes clear," Guler said.

Several ambulances rushed to the scene to tend to the victims, CNN-Turk television said, adding that the town hall had suffered major damage.

Reyhanli, a town of about 60,000 people, lies in southern Turkey near the Cilvegozu crossing opposite Syria's Bab al-Hawa border post.

The border area has witnessed a number of attacks as the conflict in Syria spills over into Turkey, a one-time ally of President Bashar al-Assad.

In February, a car bomb attack at Cilvegozu which Turkey blamed on Syrian intelligence agents killed 17 people and wounded another 30.

Saturday's attacks come just two days after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he believed Syria has used chemical weapons, crossing a "red line" set by US President Barack Obama.

"It is clear the regime has used chemical weapons and missiles," Erdogan told NBC News on Thursday, without elaborating but calling for the United States to take more action against Syria.

Erdogan, who earlier this month branded Assad a "butcher" who must be held to account for the deaths of thousands of his people, is due to meet Obama in Washington on May 16.

Western nations have raised concerns about the use of chemical weapons in the escalating conflict that the United Nations estimates has killed 70,000 people since March 2011.

Turkey, a predominantly Sunni Muslim country, has sided with rebels fighting to topple Assad's Alawite-led regime.

Turkey has taken in around 400,000 refugees as well as Syrian army defectors and repeatedly called on the international community to act on the unfolding crisis.

Violence has frequently flared on the tense border, and NATO has deployed Patriot missile batteries on the Turkish side to try to prevent a further spillover of the conflict.