At least 40 dead in Turkey car bombings near Syria border

ISTANBUL (AFP) - At least 40 people were killed and 100 injured on Saturday when two explosive-laden cars blew up in a small Turkish town near the Syrian border, as Ankara swiftly pointed the finger at Syria.

In the wake of the bombing, the deadliest attack in Turkey since the beginning of the conflict in neighbouring Syria, the deputy prime minister suggested President Bashar al-Assad's government may have had a hand in the killings.

"With their secret services and armed groups, they are certainly one of the usual suspects to instigate and carry out such an outrageous plot," Bulent Arinc told Turkish NTV television.

Stressing that an investigation had only just begun, Arinc recalled that Turkish authorities had already blamed Syrian secret services for a similar attack that killed 17 in February.

The bombings in the town of Reyhanli, just a few kilometres from the main border crossing into Syria, claimed 40 lives and left 100 injured, 29 seriously, Interior Minister Muammer Guler told the Anatolia news agency.

Rescuers were hunting for possible survivors buried underneath the rubble of buildings destroyed by the blasts.

Over a dozen ambulances and several air ambulances rushed to the scene to tend to the victims, NTV television said, adding that the town hall had suffered major damage.

A number of cars were also completely wrecked in the attacks which caused a power cut in the area around Reyhanli, according to local media.

Guler said the regional governor had been sent to the town "to put the necessary security measures in place" following the attack.

The attack sowed panic among residents in Reyhanli, a town of about 60,000 people, leading to tensions between youths and Syrian refugees living locally and forcing police to fire into the air to disperse the crowd.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, on a visit to Berlin, said it was "not a coincidence" that these bombings occurred as international diplomatic efforts to solve the Syrian crisis were intensifying.

It was too early however to make a clear judgement about the attack, he warned.

The United States and Russia, one of the few remaining supporters of Assad's regime, pledged this week to relaunch efforts to solve the conflict, which the United Nations estimates has killed 70,000 people since March 2011.