ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Two car bombs exploded in a Turkish town near the border with Syria on Saturday, killing at least 20 people and injuring some 46 others, officials said. The blasts raised fears that Syria's brutal civil war violence was crossing into its neighbor.
Interior Minister Muammer Guler said the explosions hit the town of Reyhanli, a main hub for Syrian refugees and rebel activity in Turkey's Hatay province, just across the border. One of the car bombs exploded outside the city hall while the other went off outside the post office, he said.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the number of injured was 46 and some were in serious condition.
Erdogan said the explosions may be linked to Syria. The province has some 20,000 to 25,000 Syrian refugees, and "there may be those who want to agitate those sensitivities."
But he also raised the possibility that it was related to Turkey's peace talks with Kurdish rebels meant to end a nearly 30-year-old conflict.
Syrian mortars have fallen over the border before, but if the explosion turns out to be linked to Syria it would be by far the biggest death toll in Turkey related to its neighbor's civil war.
Syria shares a more than 500-mile border with Turkey, which has been a crucial supporter of the Syrian rebel cause. Ankara has allowed its territory to be used as a logistics base and staging center for Syrian insurgents.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed from Berlin that Turkey would act. "Those who for whatever reason attempt to bring the external chaos into our country will get a response," he said.
The main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, condemned the "terrorist attacks" in Reyhanli saying that it stands together with the "Turkish government and the friendly Turkish people."
The Coalition sees "these heinous terrorist acts as an attempt to take revenge on the Turkish people and punish them for their honorable support for the Syrian people," it said.
Reyhanli is a center for aid and alleged weapon trafficking between Turkey and Syria as well as for Syrian rebel activity. Apart from refugees living in camps, many Syrians escaping the civil war have also rented houses in the town.
The explosions came days before Erdogan is scheduled to travel to the United States for talks that are expected to be dominated by the situation in Syria.
"This ... will increase the pressure on the U.S president next week to do something to show support to Turkey when Erdogan visits him in Washington," said Soner Cagaptay, an expert on Turkey at the Washington Institute. "Washington will be forced to take a more pro-active position on Syria, at least in rhetoric, whether or not there is appetite for such a position here."
At least 15 ambulances were helping the injured, the health ministry said. There was no immediate information on the identities of the victims.
Abdullah, a Reyhanli resident, told the Associated Press he heard two strong explosions at about 1 p.m. "The bombs was very powerful," said the man by telephone.
The frontier area has seen heavy fighting between rebels and the Syrian regime. In February, a car bomb exploded at a border crossing with Turkey in Syria's Idlib province, killing 14. Turkey's interior minister has blamed Syria's intelligence agencies and its army for involvement.
Four Syrians and a Turk are in custody in connection with the Feb. 11 attack at the Bab al-Hawa frontier post. No one has claimed responsibility, but a Syrian opposition faction accused the Syrian government of the bombing, saying it narrowly missed 13 leaders of the group.
In that bombing, most of the victims were Syrians who had been waiting in an area straddling the frontier for processing to enter Turkey.
Tensions flared between the Syrian regime and Turkey after shells fired from Syria landed on the Turkish side, prompting Germany, the Netherlands and the United States to send two batteries of Patriot air defense missiles each to protect their NATO ally.
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.