The deadly blasts that shook Turkey at the weekend will only spur Ankara to press harder for global action against the Syrian regime, analysts say, as fears grow that the country is being dragged into the spiralling conflict.
At least 48 people were killed Saturday in twin blasts in the town of Reyhanli, near the Syrian border, in an attack Turkey claims was masterminded by a group linked to embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, though Damascus rejects the allegation.
The bombings were the deadliest incident on Turkish soil since the start of the Syrian civil war two years ago, in what observers see as a sign of the growing regional impact of a crisis that has already cost 80,000 lives.
With the Reyhanli bombings coming just days before Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington on Thursday, the Turkish premier is likely to use the incident to urge the powerful NATO ally to take “a stronger stance” against Assad, said Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute.
“Even if the president is not ready to move on all (demands)… greater commitment to support the (Syrian) rebels would be well received in Ankara, as well as stronger US and NATO commitment to Turkey’s defence,” he said.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said that the Reyhanli bombings had crossed a “red line”, while Erdogan — an outspoken critic of Assad — has urged his countrymen not to fall for Damascus’s attempt to drag them “into the Syrian quagmire”.
But as Turkey mourns its dead, some analysts say the country’s strong anti-regime stance has already made it a stakeholder in the conflict raging on its doorstep — to the dismay of many Turks.
“Believing that Bashar al-Assad’s ouster is inevitable, Turkey has sought to undermine him by backing the political and armed opposition inside Syria,” Cagaptay told AFP.
“Turkey’s policy of regime change in Syria has, thus far, failed with dire consequences, as demonstrated by last week’s attacks: Ankara can no more isolate itself from the fallout of the Syrian war,” he said.
The loss of dozens of lives in Reyhanli, a major hub for Syrian refugees and rebels, has provoked public anger over Erdogan’s aggressive position on Syria — he has in the past labelled Assad a “butcher” and accused him of using chemical weapons.
Thousands of residents in Hatay province, where the blasts occurred, have taken to the streets in the aftermath of the bloodshed, urging Ankara to stop backing the rebels with banners reading: “Hands off Syria”!
“All we want is for the government to drop its support for the Islamist rebels,” Mahir Mansuroglu, a spokesman for a community centre in Hatay, told AFP at a protest on Monday.
Ankara broke ties with Damascus soon after Assad, a one-time ally, launched a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2011.
Since then, Turkey has become a rear base for Syrian rebels fighting to topple Assad’s regime, as well as a refuge for some 400,000 Syrian refugees, a heavy burden that is straining Turkey’s resources.
It has also been the occasional victim of cross-border shelling from Syria, with one incident in October killing five Turkish nationals.
In response, the US, Germany and the Netherlands in January deployed Patriot missile batteries along Turkey’s volatile border with Syria to serve as a deterrent.
But Erdogan wants Washington to go further and take the lead on robust action against the Syrian regime. He has also called for US support to establish a safe-haven and a no-fly zone inside the conflict-ridden country to protect rebel-held border territories.
A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Reyhanli attacks had proved to the world “how merciless the regime is”.
“They show how urgently a solution is needed,” he said.