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ANKARA, November 26 (RIA Novosti) – NATO officials will start surveying sites along the Turkey-Syria border on Tuesday for possible deployment of Patriot air defense systems, the Turkish General Staff said in a statement.
The NATO delegation includes 30 experts from the United States, Germany and the Netherlands, all of whom have Patriots in their arsenals.
The Turkish General Staff said that the Patriot missile systems will not be used to establish a no-fly zone or to conduct offensive operations, but only “against an air or missile threat from Syria,” the Hurriyet daily said, citing the statement.
“The regions the Patriot systems would be deployed to and the number of foreign personnel that will be assigned to them will be be based on the NATO delegation’s site-survey,” the statement said.
Turkey, a NATO member, has requested the deployment of Patriot missiles on its territory, saying the anti-missile system is necessary to protect its 900-km border with conflict-torn Syria.
Among the most possible sites for the Patriot deployment are Diyarbakir, Urfa and Malatya in southeastern Turkey. Hurriyet said up to 300 military personnel will be needed to service the Patriot batteries.
Syria has condemned the Patriot missile plan in Turkey as “another act of provocation.” Russia has warned that the move could trigger a regional crisis. NATO maintained that the missiles would be placed for defensive purposes only.
US Patriot surface-to-air missiles were last deployed to Turkey in 1991 and 2003, during the two Gulf Wars, to protect the country from Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles.
Turkey has fired artilllery salvos across its border with Syria several times in recent weeks in retaliation for Syrian shelling, which killed five Turkish civilians in October. It has also provided shelter to refugees fleeing the violence in Syria and has been one of President Bashar al-Assad’s harshest critics during the almost 17-month revolt against his rule.
Tensions between Turkey and Syria flared dangerously this summer after Damascus shot down a Turkish fighter that had violated its airspace. Turkey threatened retaliation if there was any repeat of the incident, although it admitted the plane had mistakenly strayed slightly into Syria.
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