Turkish police are searching for two people as suspects for a blast where at least 13 civilians were killed and 28 others were wounded Feb. 11 at the Cilvegözü border gate on the Turkish-Syrian border, in the southern province of Hatay’s Reyhanlı district.
Turkish police are searching for two people who parked two separate cars before the explosion took place, CNN Türk has reported.
According to recorded CCTV footage, the two suspects left their vehicles just minutes before the explosion. The broadcaster added that the police sketches of the two people had been prepared and that a search was under way.
CNN Türk also said there could be more deaths, but that some of those killed could have been taken over to the Syrian side of the border.
“This incident shows the accuracy of our approach and our commitment to both the issue of terrorism and the situation in Syria,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said. “I want to make it clear that we will not make the slightest compromise in our determination in both cases.”
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said three of the 13 people killed in the blast were Turks. The explosion occurred in a car that came from Syria, and had not yet entered Turkey, in the buffer zone where humanitarian aid for Syrians is processed.
Twenty-eight people were wounded in the blast, Arınç said, adding that 13 of them were in critical condition.
Turkey’s Interior Minister Sadullah Ergin, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and Minister of Customs and Trade Hayati Yazıcı went to Hatay late on Feb. 11. The three ministers were briefed on the incident and then went to the hospital were the injured people were being treated.
Reyhanlı Mayor Hüseyin Şanverdi told the CNNTürk news channel that the blast occured in a car with a Syrian license plate.
Adnan Korkmaz, the regional customs manager in charge of the Cilvegözü border gate, told CNNTürk that the explosion occured in the buffer zone where humanitarian aid for Syrians is processed.
He said the car that exploded did not leave or enter Turkey, but rather had not yet entered the customs zone on the Syrian side of the frontier.
Noting that the car was not moving when the explosion occurred, Korkmaz said he could not confirm how long the car had been parked at the location.
The situation looks like an attack, according to Numan Kurtulmuş, deputy leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
“This is not an internal problem of Syria,” Kurtulmuş told private channel NTV on the ongoing crisis in Syria.
“We have stood by the people since the beginning but did not receive enough support from the West. Turkey is ready to continue humanitarian aid, but the crisis is getting deeper. We hope that a democratic regime wanted by the Syrian people will be established soon,” Kurtulmuş added.
Yusuf Yalçınkaya, who was slightly injured in the blast, said the explosion occurred while he was at the border gate bidding farewell to his relatives.
“The explosion occurred in a car with a horrible sound,” he told Anatolia news agency, adding that he saw many bodies on the ground following the blast.
Just before the explosion, Agence France-Presse reported that tensions rose between Syrian rebels and the fighters of the jihadist Al-Nusra Front.
In a rebel rear base at Atme in northern Syria, a close border town of Reyhanlı, where the explosion took place, at least four fights have broken out in recent weeks between jihadists and mainstream rebels, witnesses and residents told AFP.
Nevzat Çiçek, a journalist who was at the Cilvegözü border gate at the time of the explosion, told the private Kanal 24 news channel that some wounded people were taken to the hospitals on the Syrian side and that the death toll could increase.
Nearly 15 vehicles, some of them carrying humanitarian aid to the Syrians affected by the ongoing civil war in the country, were also damaged.
Republican People’s Party (CHP) Hatay deputy Hasan Akgöl said the blast was an act of provocation. “This is an area where the rebel forces are strong and Syrian army members cannot get near,” he told NTV. “My personal view is that this is an attempt at provocation.”
Turkey and Syria share a 900-kilometer border that has been tense since the uprising in Syria started almost two years ago.
Turkey has been a strong supporter of efforts by rebels to topple Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. More than 170,000 refugees, including army defectors and members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), have taken shelter in camps in Turkey.
Two Turkish pilots, Cpt. Gökhan Ertan and Lt. Hasan Hüseyin Aksoy, were killed when their plane was shot down by Syrians on June 22, 2012. A report by a military prosecutor said last September that the Turkish F-4 Phantom warplane was shot down by a Syrian air defense missile even though the missile did not directly hit the plane.