05/13/2013, 00.00
TURKEY - SYRIA
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Attack drags Turkey further into Syrian quagmire

Last Saturday's attack in Reyhanli left 46 dead. Located a few kilometres from the border, the town hosts thousands of Syrian refugees. Ankara blames Syrian intelligence, but arrests nine Turkish nationals in connection with the massacre.

Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Tensions between Ankara and Damascus are running high following a horrific attack that took place on 11 May in Reyhanli, a Turkish town a few kilometres from the Syrian border, which killed 46 people.

Yesterday, Turkey's Interior Minister Muammer Guler said at a press conference that the attack was designed to create tension between Syrian refugees and the local population, which is largely opposed to the presence of displaced persons in the area.

In a speech to the nation, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed the Syrian government, accusing it of trying to destabilise the border in order to drag Turkey into the Syrian "quagmire". As a consequence, he called on Turks to be "extremely careful, extremely vigilant . . . in the face of provocations."

For its part, the Assad regime denied any involvement in the slaughter. On Sunday, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi told a news conference that his country "did not commit and would never commit such an act because our values would not allow that".

Reyhanli is an entry point for refugees fleeing violence in Syria, but it is also an important strategic place used by rebel armies to enter Syria. The twin bombing in the city was the second incident of its kind inside Turkey since the beginning of the war.

Experts warn that the conflict could spread to the whole region, pointing the finger at Ankara's excessive involvement in support of rebel groups operating in northern Syria.

The crisis between Damascus and Ankara comes a couple of weeks before talks between the regime and the opposition are set to start on 23 May in Istanbul.

Yesterday, Turkish authorities arrested nine people connected with the attack, all Turkish citizens and members of a Marxist organisation that supports the Assad regime.

According to Ankara, Syria's intelligence services co-ordinated the attack with armed groups operating along the border.

The Ankara-Damascus confrontation has escalated at a time of strategic realignments in the international community on how to solve the Syrian crisis, which has already cost the lives of more than 70,000 people.

In fact, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have recently agreed to seek a political solution to the conflict, dusting off Kofi Annan's June 2012 six-point plan. In turn, this has limited the risk of an outside military intervention and slowed military aid to Syrian rebels, who are backed by Turkey and Gulf states.

Following the meeting between Kerry and Lavrov, the Syrian opposition and the regime have accepted to sit down for talks on 23 May in Istanbul.

One proposal on the table would see the two sides stop fighting in order to set up a new government that would include members of the old regime, but not Bashar al-Assad.

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