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Turkey-Syria Tensions Over Bombings

The double bombing in Reyhanli on May 11 killed 46 people.

Turkey says nine Turkish citizens with links to the Syrian intelligence services have been arrested in connection with the Reyhanli bombings.

Turkey and Syria have exchanged accusations following a double car bombing in a Turkish town near the Syrian border that killed 46 people.

Turkish officials say nine Turkish citizens with links to the Syrian intelligence services have been arrested in connection with the May 11 bombings in the town of Reyhanli.

Turkey said the suspects had confessed to taking part in the attacks.

The Syrian regime denied masterminding the attacks and instead called on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resign, saying he was trying to build glory through the blood of Turks and Syrians.

Erdogan, in a speech in Istanbul, warned of Turkish retaliation, but said Turkey would resist being pulled into Syria’s civil war.

"Anyone who wants to harm Turkey will have to pay a price sooner or later," he said. "Major states would retaliate twice as hard as the initial provocation when they face an attack, but they will wait for the right time. No one should be in any doubt that the price of the lives or our brothers in Reyhanli, as well as those of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, will be paid."

The prime minister gave no details on how NATO member Turkey might respond.

Reyhanli is located in the province of Hatay and is home to thousands of refugees who have fled the Syrian war.

Turkey has supported Syria's rebels during the more than two-year-old conflict and has called for the government of President Bashar al-Assad to resign.

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi on May 12 rejected charges of involvement by the government, saying: "Syria will never carry out such an act."

"The Turkish government should be held responsible for what happened,” said the minister, quoted by the state-run SANA news agency. “It has turned the border areas into a center for international terrorism.”

Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler said investigators believe the bombings were carried out by a group with direct links to Syria’s Mukhabarat intelligence agency.

Guler said investigators had determined that the explosives were smuggled into the area, then placed into Turkish vehicles outfitted with special compartments.

"We have discovered that the materials were brought to Hatay (Province) by illegal means and the cars were taken from there," he said. "They were delivered to auto repairs on behalf of certain people and disguised chambers were built into the cars in which to put the bombs, and a group of people who assisted them took those cars out of the auto repair depots and to the blast scene."

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said the aim of the bombings was to foment divisions between Turks and Syrian refugees.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said “it was not a coincidence” that the bombings occurred amid a new joint initiative by the United States and Russia to launch a diplomatic process to settle the conflict.

The U.S. and Russia have been on opposite sides of the conflict, with Washington supporting the rebels and Russia remaining one of the few allies of the Syrian regime.

In another development, the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced May 12 that its figures indicate at least 82,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in March 2011.

No independent confirmation of the group’s numbers was available.

Based on reports from dpa, Reuters, AP and AFP