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Dozens dead in Turkey car bombings near Syria border

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Two explosive-laden cars blew up in a small Turkish town near the border with Syria on Saturday, killing at least 40 people and wounding 100 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.

Guler told NTV television that the death toll had climbed to 40 and that 100 people were wounded, updating an earlier toll given by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Twenty-nine survivors were in a serious condition, Guler said.

Rescuers were hunting for possible survivors buried underneath the rubble of buildings destroyed by the blasts.

Over a dozen ambulances and several air ambulances rushed to the scene to tend to the victims, Turkish NTV television said, adding that the town hall had suffered major damage.

A number of cars were also completely wrecked in the attacks whose force caused a power cut in the area around Reyhanli, local media reported.

Guler said the regional governor had been sent to Reyhanli "to put the necessary security measures in place" following the attack.

The attack sowed panic among residents in Reyhanli, a town of about 60,000 people, leading to tensions between local youths and Syrian refugees living locally and forcing police to fire into the air to disperse the crowd.

Thousands of refugees who fled the Syrian crisis are living in Reyhanli and a refugee camp adjacent to the town.

Reyhanli lies in southern Turkey near the Cilvegozu crossing opposite Syria's rebel-controlled Bab al-Hawa border post, the busiest crossing between the two countries.

The border area has witnessed a number of deadly attacks as the conflict in Syria spills over into Turkey, whose government was once an ally of President Bashar al-Assad but has become one of its harshest critics.

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

Earlier this month, one police officer was killed and six other people wounded when Syrians trying to cross into Turkey opened fire in a border buffer zone.

In a statement Syria's opposition condemned Saturday's attacks, saying they were destined to pit Turks and Syrians against each other.

"The Coalition sees these heinous terrorist acts an an attempt to take revenge on the Turkish people and punish them for their honourable support of the Syrian people (...)"

The bombings were "a desperate and failed attempt to sow discord", the statement added.

Saturday's attacks come just two days after 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 Thursday.

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 regime led by Shia Alawites.

Turkey has taken in around 400,000 refugees as well as Syrian opposition exiles and a number of army defectors.

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.

The deployment followed a request from NATO member Turkey after a series of cross-border shellings, including an attack in October last year that killed five people.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130511/dozens-dead-turkey-car-bombings-near-syria-border