Turks living near the Syrian border expressed concern on Thursday, as Turkey tested blood samples from injured Syrians to determine whether they had been victims of a chemical weapons attack.
The samples were sent to Turkey’s forensic medicine institute after several Syrians presenting with breathing difficulties were brought to a Turkish hospital on Monday in the town of Reyhanli in Hatay province along the Syrian border.
Turkish government officials told Reuters the necessary precautions were being taken, despite unconfirmed information on the use of chemical weapons.
But the head of a village district, Mehmet Ziya Kirk, said local people were becoming increasingly worried by the developments in neighboring Syria.
”There are rumors that chemical weapons have been used in this region because of the ongoing war in Syria. Nowadays, people are extremely concerned. They call me very often and ask questions about these rumors, they ask me if the Turkish state will be taking any precautionary measures and they ask me whether Turkish officials have been in touch with me. So far, I haven’t received any information about these rumors but tensions have been high. Each time an ambulance drives by, people become concerned and distressed and begin asking how the patient inside was wounded or killed. They call me to ask whether it was a chemical weapons incident. Nowadays, I receive a lot of similar phone calls from residents,” he said.
Fifty-four wounded Syrians were brought to Turkey for treatment after a Syrian air strike on the headquarters of a rebel brigade along the Turkish border killed at least five people, including children, and wounded dozens more on Tuesday.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday said there was evidence that chemical weapons had been used during Syria’s two year conflict, but that it was not yet known how the chemical weapons were used, when they were used and who used them.
A resident in Reyhanli, in Hatay province along the Syrian border, urged the Turkish government to take precautionary measures.
“We have heard that chemicals have been used. We are very concerned about this news, as residents of Hatay, Reyhanli, as we are close to the border. We call on the Turkish State and Government to step in,” said Hakki Kurtkulak.
Washington has long said it views the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a “red line”, but wary of the false intelligence that was used to justify the 2003 war in Iraq, it has said it wants proof before taking action.
Fighting in Syria, now entering its third year, has intensified in the last month with government forces attempting to roll back rebel advances. Some 70,000 people have now been killed in the civil war.
Each side has blamed the other for what they both said was a chemical attack in the city of Saraqeb in Idlib on Monday.