Middle East

Damascus denies responsibility for Turkey blasts

Officials work on one of the scenes of the twin car bomb attacks in the town of Reyhanli of Hatay province near the Turkish-Syrian border May 12, 2013. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

DAMASCUS: A Syrian minister on Sunday denied accusations that Damascus was behind a bomb attack in a Turkish town that left dozens dead, a day after Ankara blamed supporters of President Bashar al-Assad for the blasts.

"Syria did not commit and would never commit such an act, not because we don't have the capacity, but because our values would not allow that," Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said at a press conference broadcast by state television.

"We were saddened by the martyrs' deaths" Saturday in the town of Reyhanli, in southern Turkey and near the Syrian border, said Zohbi.

"It is (Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdogan who should be asked about this act... He and his party bear direct responsibility," he added, describing the Turkish leader as an "assassin".

"As an assassin, he should resign," said Zohbi.

"Why this timing? Why these attacks, just days before the meeting between Erdogan and (US President Barack) Obama? Does he (Erdogan), whose country is a NATO member, want to incite the United States (into intervening in Syria) by telling him his country has been attacked?" Zohbi said.

Saturday's attack, which left at least 43 people dead and 100 others wounded, was the deadliest in Turkey in recent years.

It is the latest in a string of attacks in that country since the start of the Syrian conflict more than two years ago.

"The people and the organisation who carried out this attack have been identified. We have established that they are linked to groups supporting the Syrian regime and its intelligence services," Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler had said.

Zohbi added Sunday: "No one has the right to make arbitrary accusations. He accuses us first, and then says he will find the proof. That actually means he will fabricate the evidence."

Turkey distanced itself from its erstwhile ally soon after Assad started cracking down on pro-democracy protests in 2011.

Ankara has since become a rear base for the Syrian rebellion and Damascus has already been blamed for a string of attacks on Turkish soil.

Turkey hosts at least 326,000 Syrians forced to flee conflict in their country, the UN says.

In the same press conference, Zohbi said Syria has a right "now and whenever it wants to take action on the issue of the (Israeli-occupied) Golan Heights".

He described the area as "Arab, Syrian land... even if Israel's army is deployed there. We have the right to enter and exit the area whenever we want, and in whichever way we want".

Zohbi's statements come three days after Damascus ally in Lebanon, the chief of Shiite movement Hezbollah, said Syria will open "to resistance fighters the front in the Golan", annexed by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel last week reportedly carried out two air strikes near Damascus.





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