Resentments surface in Turkish border town after twin blasts kill over 45 people

A burned-out car with Syrian licence plates was evidence of high tensions between Syrians and the local community

People view the debris of the Saturday explosion sites that killed 46 and injured about 50 others in Reyhanli. Photograph: AP Photo

People view the debris of the Saturday explosion sites that killed 46 and injured about 50 others in Reyhanli. Photograph: AP Photo

 

On a drizzling Sunday afternoon in Reyhanli, a rural city near the Syrian border in Turkey’s Hatay province, locals wandered streets littered with glass and twisted metal, still in shock after the twin explosions that killed more than 45 people and injured more than 100 the previous afternoon.

“Dark smoke covered the place and injured girls were screaming in the street. Some people were missing an arm or a leg,” said Kasseim Hijazy (26), who rushed into the street from his office in the Syrian Media Centre after the first car bomb detonated in the bustling shopping district at about 1.45pm on Saturday.

Fifteen minutes later as he and others tried to help the injured, a second bomb detonated outside the town hall down the street. People who had run from shops and offices in panic were caught in the blast. The explosion tore the front walls off nearby buildings, leaving scorched, gutted rooms billowing smoke.

Hijazy alleged that in the shock and anger that followed the bombings local Turkish people began to turn on Syrians, attacking them with knives and destroying Syrian-owned vehicles.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attacks might be linked with resentment at the 20,000 to 25,000 Syrians living in refugee camps in Hatay, while deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc accused the Syrian regime and intelligence service of co-ordinating the attacks.

Arinc linked the bombings with a previous explosion near Reyhanli in February that killed 17 and wounded 30.

Yesterday a charred sheet of metal that had once been a car door still lay on the ground outside a local bank where the second explosion took place. A plastic palm tree in the middle of the square wavered surreally in front of the blackened edifices.


Relatives mourn
On the porch of a house on the same street, the relatives of a 25-year-old man killed in the blast sat on white plastic chairs, holding an improvised mass amid the debris. Similar makeshift ceremonies for lost loved ones were taking place across the city.

The bright pink chairs and jewelled mirrors of a hair salon, its glass shop front now strewn across the road, remained defiantly intact across the street from the police-lined barricades closing off the first bomb site.

Locals gathered along the yellow police tape, staring in disbelief, while neighbours swept shattered glass from the streets outside their houses, even blocks away.

“I heard the blast and rushed out into the street,” said Dilber, the owner of the salon, cradling her two-year-old daughter, who had been playing in the shop at the time of the bomb.

A video taken on her neighbour’s camera phone immediately after the explosion shows an elderly woman sitting in shock in the middle of the road.


‘Very dangerous’
“The whole world must see what is happening here, Syria and Bashar al-Assad are very dangerous,” said Phyllis Shazier (56), another Reyhanli local.

She added that the cost of living in Reyhanli was very high after the influx of refugees from Syria, many of whom have rented houses and set up shops in the town. She shared the view of many locals that the conflict had brought insecurity and violence to the area.

Caught in the explosion, Mehmet Tetik (37) had walked in shock past dead bodies of men and women he knew to Reyhanli City Hospital, which yesterday was cordoned off by the Turkish army. His uncle and a childhood friend from school were killed.

“Bashar al-Assad wants to scare the Turkish people and force the Syrians to go back,” said Tetik, who had multiple cuts on his body and a large wound at the back of his head barely covered with a bandage.

In a neighbourhood on the outskirts, a burned-out car with Syrian licence plates was evidence of high tensions between Syrians and the local community, which includes minorities of Kurds and Alawites. Earlier in the week an alleged fight between two Syrian and Turkish families led to an accusation that a group of Syrians had set fire to the Turkish flag.

In the capital, Ankara, as well as in Reyhanli and nearby towns, large groups of protesters rallied in the streets against the Turkish government’s policy on Syria.

The Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group, has its logistical and military base in Turkey, now host to an estimated 400,000 Syrian refugees.

It condemned the “heinous terrorist attacks” as an attempt to “take revenge on the Turkish people and punish them for their honourable support for the Syrian people”.