Syria on Sunday rejected Turkey’s allegations that it was behind two car bombs that killed 46 people in Turkey and wounded dozens more.
Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi told a news conference that “Syria did not and will never do such an act because our values do not allow this. It is not anyone’s right to hurl unfounded accusations.” Zoubi’s comments were the first official Syrian response since Saturday’s bombings in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli, near Syria.
The Syrian minister alleged that Turkey is responsible “for all that happened in Syria and what happened in Turkey yesterday,” but did not explain.
He also launched one of the harshest personal attacks on Turkey’s prime minister by an Syrian official so far, demanding that Recep Tayyip Erdogan “step down as a killer and as a butcher.”
Turkey’s interior minister said authorities have detained nine people in connection with the car bomb attacks. Muammer Guler says the attacks were carried out by a group linked to Syria’s intelligence service, but did not name the group.
Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said all nine people detained over the bombings are Turkish citizens.
Also on Sunday, Syrian rebels released four Filipino UN peacekeepers they abducted last week, a military spokesman in the Philippines said.
The four, seized Tuesday, were apparently unharmed, but will undergo a medical checkup and stress debriefing, said Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan.
The peacekeepers are part of a UN contingent that patrols a buffer zone between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, a plateau Israel captured from Syria in 1967.
It was the second abduction of Filipino peacekeepers since March, when 21 were held for three days by rebels fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The Philippine foreign secretary has said he would recommend withdrawing Filipinos from the peacekeeping contingent in Syria, but the final decision is up to the country’s president.
Nearly 1,000 UN peacekeepers are patrolling the Golan Heights. Other major contributors are India and Austria. Croatia has recently withdrawn its contingent.
The buffer zone between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan had been largely quiet for four decades, but tensions have risen there since the outbreak of the revolt against Assad more than two years ago.
The uprising escalated into a civil war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions of Syrians. The two sides have been largely deadlocked on the battlefield.
In the latest violence in the capital, Damascus, six mortar shells struck a neighborhood causing damage and casualties, a Syrian official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to brief reporters.
The mortars hit the predominantly Alawite district of Mazzeh 86 during morning rush hour, he said. Sunday is the first day of the work week in Syria.
Alawites, including Assad, are followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and have dominated government under Assad family rule. Rebels and regime forces have been fighting in parts of Damascus, and have fired mortars at neighborhoods seen as pro-Assad.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, confirmed that mortars struck Mazzeh 86, but said it had no immediate reports of casualties.