Syria has firmly rejected accusations that it was responsible for Saturday’s massive twin blasts in a Turkish border town that ignited another bout of military tensions between Ankara and Damascus.
“Syria did not commit and would never commit such an act because our values would not allow that,” said Omran Zoabi, Syria’s Information Minister on Sunday. Mr. Zoabi was responding to Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler’s charge that the perpetrators of the attacks were “linked to the Syrian regime and intelligence agency” and had nothing to do with the Syrian opposition and refugees. Mr. Zoabi went further on the offensive and pinned responsibility for the deadly attacks on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“It is Erdogan who should be asked about this act... He and his party bear direct responsibility,” said Mr. Zoabi. “As an assassin, he should resign.”
Analysts say that the masterminds of the stunning double strike that rocked the town of Reyhanli in the Hatay province — already on edge on account of the heavy influx of Syrian refugees — may have tried to disrupt the search for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis following Tuesday’s accord in Moscow between Russia and the United States.
Turkey was quick off the blocks to cast aspersions on Syria for the tragedy. Bulent Arinc, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister said bluntly after the blasts “that the people taking refuge in Hatay have become targets for the Syrian regime”.
Saturday’s bloodbath spiraled tensions between Turkey and Syria to a new high. Mr. Arinc warned that Turkey would now do “what is necessary” if Assad regime’s guilt is proven. Ankara threatened to take “all retaliatory measures necessary,” implying an open-ended possibility of a sharp escalation in cross-border tensions.
But there was no shortage of ammunition in Syria’s verbal counterattack. Mr. Zoabi asserted that Turkey could not escape the responsibility of destabilising border areas. “They (the Turks) turned houses of civilian Turks, their farms, their property into a centre and passageway for terrorist groups from all over the world,” said the Minister. “They facilitated and still are the passage of weapons and explosives and money and murders to Syria.” Mr. Zoabi described Mr.Erdogan a “killer and a butcher”.
In Berlin, visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Syria had attempted to blow-up the joint Russia-U.S. initiative to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis through its involvement in the blasts. “Such provocation can [come to mind] in such a critical transition phase regarding Syria. It is not a coincidence that this happened when diplomatic traffic is intensifying,” Mr. Davutoglu observed.
Turkey’s top allies — the United States, NATO and Britain — have pledged immediate support, but Russia said that the summary imposition of guilt on Syria may have hidden motives. “In the terrorist attack in Turkey, Syria was accused again – as it is always blamed for everything. Someone wants to disrupt the peace conference and to push ahead with the use of military force,” Alexei Pushkov, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Russia’s Duma said on Twitter.
The fallout of the tragedy resonated bizarrely in Turkey’s streets after the bombings. In Reyhanli — the main point of entry for Syrian refugees — angry crowds smashed cars with Syrian number plates. But many also marched to denounce the Mr. Erdogan and his Foreign Minister. Dozens took to the streets in capital Ankara to protest against their government’s anti-Syria policy.