ANKARA, Turkey — A team of experts from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization arrived on the Turkish-Syrian border to select missile-battery sites to counter possible threats from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Dutch, German, and U.S. officers representing the three NATO countries with Patriot surface-to-air missiles, visited provinces near the Syrian border Tuesday, authorities said.
Their work began a day after Assad’s jets attacked a Turkish-sponsored refugee camp near the Syrian town of Atma, sending thousands of people streaming toward the frontier.
Any deployment would augment Turkey’s air-defense capabilities, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Nov. 21. The alliance will make a final decision based on the expert report.
Russia and Iran have both opposed the stationing of NATO batteries on Turkish soil, saying it could fuel regional tensions, and the issue may be discussed when Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Turkey on Dec. 3.
Turkey’s military said yesterday that the Patriot missile deployment is a purely defensive measure and won’t be used to enforce a “no-fly zone” or to launch attacks.
Before the start of Syria’s civil conflict 20 months ago, Turkey and Syria’s bilateral relationship was so close that Assad and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vacationed together with their families in 2008.
Since the destruction of a Turkish jet in June, the deaths of five Turks killed by a mortar round from Syria last month and the use by rebels of Turkish bases, military tension has sharply increased.
Turkey yesterday scrambled warplanes after the Atma attack, which destroyed more than 200 empty tents at a refugee camp being set up by the pro-Islamic Turkish aid group, Humanitarian Relief Foundation or IHH, the state-run Anatolia news agency said Tuesday.
It was not clear if Syrian jets were targeting the Turkish-sponsored camp.
Thousands of Syrians who fled after the attacks were today huddled on the Turkish border and waiting to cross to safety, the Foreign Ministry said today. Turkey accepts refugees once a place has been found for them at refugee camps, a process which can take days or weeks. About 180,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey so far, Erdogan said on Nov. 25.
Turkey’s exports to Syria have dropped by some 70 percent over the past year, Mehmet Buyukeksi, head of the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly told a news conference in Istanbul today.
The Turkish government has called on Assad to step down and has allowed Syrian officers to command the rebel Free Syrian Army from a refugee camp inside Turkey, and opposition fighters frequently cross into Turkey to obtain food, medicine and clothes. Turkey denies arming the rebels.
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