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Turkey blames Syrian group after two bombings kill 43

Police stood guard at the scene of an explosion Saturday in Turkey’s Hatay Province, where bombings killed 43 people.

AYKUT UNLUPINAR/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Police stood guard at the scene of an explosion Saturday in Turkey’s Hatay Province, where bombings killed 43 people.

REYHANLI, Turkey — In one of the deadliest attacks in Turkey in recent years, two car bombs exploded near the border with Syria on Saturday, killing 43 and wounding 140.

Turkish officials blamed the attack on a group linked to Syria, and one called the neighboring country’s intelligence service and military ‘‘the usual suspects.’’

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The explosions, which were 15 minutes apart and hit the town of Reyhanli’s busiest street, raised fears that Turkey could increasingly be drawn into Syria’s brutal civil war.

Turkey already hosts Syria’s political opposition and rebel commanders, has given shelter to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and in the past retaliated against Syrian shells that landed in Turkey.

Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said the assailants were from Turkey, but were linked to Syria’s intelligence service.

‘‘We have to a great extent completed our work toward identifying the assailants,’’ he told reporters. ‘‘We have established that the organization and assailants have links to the pro-regime mukhabarat [intelligence] organization.’’

He did not name the group.

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Another deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, said the attacks were still being investigated, but that if it is proved that Syria was behind the attack, Turkey would ‘‘do whatever is necessary,’’ without specifying if that included military action.

One of the car bombs exploded outside city hall while the other went off outside the post office. Reyhanli, a main hub for Syrian refugees and rebels in Turkey’s Hatay Province, is just across the border from Syria’s Idlib Province.

Images showed people frantically carrying the wounded through rubble-strewn streets to safety. Black smoke billowed from a tall building.

The explosions came days before Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to go to the United States for talks, which are expected to be dominated by the situation in Syria. The attacks follow claims by Erdogan that the Syrian regime has fired about 200 missiles tipped with chemical weapons.

Syrian mortar rounds have fallen over the border before, but if the blasts turn out to be linked to Syria it would be by far the biggest death toll in Turkey related to Syria’s civil war.

Syria shares a more than 500-mile border with Turkey, which has been a supporter of the Syrian rebel cause. Ankara let its territory be used as a logistics base and staging center for Syrian insurgents.

Atalay said 43 people were killed and 140 others were wounded in the blasts.

The bombings will increase the pressure on President Barack Obama next week to do something to show support for Turkey when Erdogan visits 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.’’

Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, said the attack may force Turkey to take action.

‘‘It should be a defining moment for Turkey,’’ Shaikh said. ‘‘It has been supporting the rebels, and there has been strong rhetoric. But this may be a moment where it really has to assert itself — if it is the Assad regime [behind the bombings], and it is quite conceivable it is.’’

Turkey’s opposition criticized the government’s policy on Syria, saying its active support of the rebels had put the country’s security at risk.

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