Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler accused a terrorist group “closely linked” to Syrian intelligence of carrying out Saturday’s twin bombings in Reyhanli, a town to which large numbers of Syrians have fled to escape the civil war across the border. Nine Turks have been arrested in connection with the plot, he said.
But Syrian Information Minister Omran Zubi denied any involvement by his government, saying on state television the charges were “unfounded” and accusing Turkey in turn of supporting al-Qaeda-led rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Formerly close to Assad, Turkey’s Islamist-led government has become one of his fiercest critics as the two-year conflict has dragged on. More than 300,000 Syrians are now in Turkey, and there have been several cross-border incidents, including an April 2012 shooting by Syrian forces that killed two people in a Turkish camp housing refugees, and the downing of a Turkish jet two months later.
As a member of NATO, Turkey could look to the alliance for help. Article four of the North Atlantic Treaty states that NATO member states “will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened.” Article five states that an attack on any member is considered an attack on all.
“It is time for the international community to act together against this regime,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters during a visit to Germany, calling for a “joint stance.”
But he also said that although Turkey reserved the right to take whatever action it deemed necessary in response, he saw no need for an emergency meeting of NATO.
Ankara may instead seek support from the United States. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is visiting Washington this week and a White House statement on his scheduled meeting with President Obama had Syria at the top of a short list of agenda topics.
U.S. officials said recently the administration was considering shifting its current policy of providing only non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. If Obama has taken such a decision, he could well make an announcement during Erdogan’s visit.
The weekend bombings come amid a new push by the U.S. and Russia to get Syrian regime and opposition elements to attend an international conference aimed at moving ahead a stalled agreement on a political transition.
Moscow, a longstanding Assad ally, says the regime has indicated its willingness to attend. The opposition coalition is planning to meet in Istanbul next week to decide whether it will do so.
First reached a year ago, the agreement ran into trouble from the outset because of differences about what future role, if any, Assad should have. Secretary of State John Kerry maintained during visits to Russia and Italy last week that in Washington’s view Assad could not play a part of any transitional government.