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MISSILE DEFENSE
Patriot missile troops in Turkey as Syria war worsens
by Staff Writers
Damascus (AFP) Jan 4, 2013


NATO begins deploying Patriot missiles in Turkey
Berlin (AFP) Jan 04, 2013 - NATO began deploying Patriot missiles in Turkey Friday to defend against threats from neighbouring Syria, the US military's European Command (EUCOM) said.

US military personnel and equipment arrived at Incirlik Air Base in southeastern Turkey to support NATO's Patriot battery deployment at Ankara's request, EUCOM, based in the southwestern German city of Stuttgart, said in a statement.

The United States will transport some 400 troops to Turkey in the next several days to operate two Patriot batteries supporting NATOs mission there. Additional equipment will arrive by sea later in January.

"The deployment of six Patriot batteries, including two each from Germany and The Netherlands, is in response to Turkey's request to NATO," EUCOM said.

"The forces will augment Turkeys air defence capabilities and contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along the Alliance's border."

EUCOM deputy commander Charles Martoglio said the Patriot batteries would fall under NATO command "when set-up is complete and the systems are operational in the next several weeks".

"The deployment will be defensive only and will not support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation," EUCOM added.

The duration of the deployment will be determined by the contributing nations in coordination with Turkey and NATO, it said.

Germany, The Netherlands and the United States agreed to supply the ground-to-air missile batteries, which Turkey requested after repeated cross-border shelling from Syria, including an attack that killed five civilians.

NATO-member Turkey, a one-time Damascus ally, has turned into one of its most vocal opponents over the 21-month civil war in Syria that monitors say has killed some 60,000 people.

The deployment will continue Monday when two Dutch Patriot batteries will be transported to the port of Eemshaven from a military barracks in Vredepeel in the southeast of the country, the Dutch defence ministry said.

The next day, 30 Dutch and 20 German soldiers charged with preparing for the missiles' arrival by ship, scheduled for January 22, will fly from the Dutch air base of Eindhoven to Turkey.

Another 270 Dutch troops, who will operate the missiles, will leave for Turkey on January 21, the ministry added.

The German defence ministry said that its Patriots would be shipped Tuesday from the port of Luebeck-Travemuende and were due to arrive at the Turkish port of Iskenderun on January 21.

The main German contingent of up to 350 soldiers will begin deploying in mid-January.

US troops began arriving in Turkey on Friday to man Patriot missile batteries against threats from neighbouring Syria, where the 21-month conflict between the regime and rebels has escalated.

Syrian air and ground forces were pounding insurgents dug in outside Damascus in a ferocious offensive a day after a car bomb in the north of the city killed at least 11 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The arrival of the US personnel specialised in the six Patriot systems to be deployed on the Turkey-Syria border under a NATO agreement has highlighted fears that Syria's civil war could suck in other nations in the region.

Cross-border fire has already erupted several times in recent months from combatants in Syria into Turkey, Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The United States last month also expressed concerns that there were signs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could be preparing to use chemical agents in missiles or aerial bombs as a last-ditch measure against insurgents.

The US military's European Command (EUCOM) said on Friday that the troops being sent to Turkey's Incirlik air base would swell to 400 within days to support the two US Patriot batteries being supplied by America.

Germany and the Netherlands will supply the four other Patriot batteries under the NATO agreement struck at Turkey's request and described as purely defensive.

"The forces will augment Turkeys air defence capabilities and contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along the Alliance's border," the EUCOM said.

Syria's chief ally Iran, however, has called the Patriot deployment "provocative," seeing it as a blunting of its own offensive capabilities.

Ankara has responded by telling Tehran to use its clout with Assad to resolve the civil war in his country.

That conflict has worsened in the past six months as Assad has ordered warplanes and heavy artillery to blast rebels who hold great swathes of Syria's countryside, especially in the north.

The United Nations this week said 60,000 people have died since the rebellion began in March 2011. Its figures showed average daily fatalities have multiplied since mid-2012, correlating with the increased use of regime air power.

On Friday, fighter-bombers hit Duma, northeast of Damascus, and artillery was shelling the southwestern Daraya neighbourhood which the rebels have held for weeks, the Observatory said.

Troop reinforcements were being sent to Daraya, the British-based group added.

The offensive was being waged a day after a car bombing in the Damascus district of Massaken Barzeh, mostly inhabited by members of Assad's Alawite minority, killed at least 11 people, the watchdog said.

They were among at least 191 people killed on Thursday, including 99 civilians, it said, adding that fighting in Damascus and its outskirts accounted for 87 deaths.

Nationwide on Friday at least 115 people died, among them 66 civilians, according to the Observatory.

It also said rebels killed a relative of political security chief Rustom Ghazali, a key regime figure, wounded another and kidnapped a third in the southern province of Daraa.

State television also reported the attack, without identifying the victims.

A pro-regime journalist working for Dunya TV was also shot dead in Aleppo while reporting there, the channel announced.

People demonstrated across Syria in solidarity with the central city of Homs, where conditions are dire in areas besieged by regime forces.

Meanwhile, Damascus slammed as "biased" a UN report released on December 20 that called the conflict "overtly sectarian in nature."

The foreign ministry accused the UN of a "lack of professionalism" in producing its report, and said any sectarian dimensions to the conflict were because of foreign support for "armed groups," state news agency SANA said.

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