BBC News

Syria-Turkey tension: Reyhanli bombings tear apart communities

By Wyre Davies
BBC News, Reyhanli, Turkey

media captionThe BBC's Wyre Davies reports from inside the town of Reyhanli, where the car bombs have created a new problem

Three days after huge car bombings in a Turkish border town, it is still not clear who carried out the attacks, although Turkey continues to blame agents of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

In the town of Reyhanli itself, the clear-up has begun but many locals are angry with the loss of life and property.

In some cases people are venting their anger on the thousands of refugees from Syria who, until the bombings, were welcomed to the area with open arms.

When Dr Najeb al Hadal fled across the Syrian border to the safety of Turkey six months ago, he was greeted by people who were horrified by the stories coming out of the civil war in Syria.

The doctor, his wife Esmahan and their five children were lucky to escape with their lives after their home in Idlib province was deliberately destroyed by forces loyal to the Assad regime.

Ugly new realities

"There was a death sentence on my head," Dr Hadal tells me. "They knew I was treating the wounded from the fighting and had decided to get rid of me."

The family settled in well to their new home, a Spartan but comfortable apartment in the Turkish town of Reyhanli. The doctor and his wife both started work in local clinics treating Syrian refugees, and some locals too - he is an urologist and Esmahan is a gynaecologist.

image captionDr Hadal and his family fled Syria after their home was destroyed

But two days ago, everything changed.

On Saturday, two huge car bombs exploded in the centre of Reyhanli. Forty-six people were killed, mainly local Turks but some Syrian refugees as well.

Turkey has blamed the attack on agents of the Assad government. Damascus has denied the accusations, and the war of words between the two former close allies has reached dangerous levels, although Turkey has insisted it will not become embroiled in Syria's conflict.

For Syrian refuges the car bombings brought home some ugly new realities.

Huge loss

On Saturday afternoon, amid chaotic scenes immediately after the bombings, Dr Hadal was ferrying the wounded to local hospitals in his car.

At one point he left his vehicle and took his injured passenger inside to the emergency room for treatment. When he returned, Dr Hadal's car had been smashed up, the windscreen broken and the tyres slashed - all because it had, clearly visible, Syrian number plates.

Even though most locals here sympathise with the plight of Assad's opponents inside Syria, some say the sheer number of refugees has brought trouble to these border towns in Turkey.

There were very few Syrians in the centre of Reyhanli today. One man, identified as Syrian, was quickly surrounded, pushed around and screamed at by a mob of locals. He quickly made his escape.

Reyhanli's residents are justifiably angry. Their town is in ruins, hundreds of business have been destroyed or damaged and it will take a long time to get over the huge loss of life.

They blame everyone: their own government for giving aid and support to opponents of the Assad regime; the thousands of refugees who have inadvertently and unwillingly made the town a target for Assad's agents in Turkey; the media too, is rounded upon, all tarred with the same brush for its fear to criticise the Turkish government's policy on Syria.

As we tried to film among the ruins of Reyhanli's main square we were physically stopped and harassed by locals.

"You all come here and tell lies," shouted one man as my pleas to be allowed to continue filming fell on ears deafened by the devastating impact of Saturday's bombs.

There was no point hanging around. It was not violent but the residents of this border town are angry and their suspects are the usual ones.

'Everyone is suffering'

Dr Hadal, his wife and their children all hope it will blow over and the town will once again feel as safe as it did just a week ago.

"After what happened I've told everyone to keep a low profile. We haven't gone out of the house for two days," says the doctor.

His wife interjects.

"The blood on the streets on Saturday was Syrian and Turkish blood," she says. "You can't separate these things, everyone is suffering."

Whoever carried out the bombings has deliberately and successfully driven a wedge between the two communities who always coexisted, even before the war with cross-border trade and their historic ties.

How Turkey's government responds to the bombings will be crucial.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said his country is not going to become dragged into Syria's war and the possibility of a full-scale regional conflict. But nor can he realistically reverse his commitment to support President Assad's opponents and shelter the thousands of refuges fleeing the fighting.

Dr Hadal and his family were lucky to escape from a brutal, vindictive regime in Syria.

They know that, one day, they will return to their homeland. But they are desperate not to be driven out of their adoptive home in Reyhanli - a town where they were once made to feel so welcome.