Nato begins deploying Patriot missiles in Turkey

January 05, 2013 - 2:14:19 am

DAMASCUS: Nato began deploying Patriot missiles in Turkey yesterday 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 Nato’s mission there. 

Additional equipment will arrive by sea later this month.

“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 Turkey’s air defence capabilities and contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along the Alliance’s border.” 

Syrian regime warplanes and troops yesterday blasted away at rebels close to Damascus, the day after a car bomb in a mainly Alawite northern district of the capital killed at least 11 people, a watchdog said.

Fighter-bombers were hitting Duma, northeast of Damascus, and army artillery was shelling the southwestern Daraya neighbourhood which the rebels have led against regime assaults for weeks, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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

The offensive was being waged a day after a car bomb in the north Damascus neighbourhood of Massaken Barzeh, mostly inhabited by members of President Bashar Al Assad’s Alawite minority, killed at least 11 people, the Observatory said.

Two children were among the dead in the attack, it said.

The official Sana news agency said the bomb struck a petrol station near a hospital and that it also wounded many civilians.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) activist network close to the rebels also reported the attack, adding that large numbers of troops deployed in the neighbourhood afterwards.

On Wednesday, the United Nations said the overall death toll from the 21-month conflict had topped 60,000. The fatality rate has multiplied in recent months, as air strikes have stepped up.

Nationwide on Thursday at least 191 people died, including 99 civilians, according to the observatory, which gathers information from a network of medics and activists. Fighting in Damascus and its outskirts accounted for 87 of the deaths, it said.

Daraya has become one of the bloodiest battlefields in Syria’s civil war. 

In August, the district was the scene of the worst massacre of the conflict when more than 500 people were reportedly killed. 

Al Watan, a pro-regime newspaper, claimed yesterday that the army had “won the battle against the terrorists in Daraya and destroyed their last positions”. 

As with many of the claimed victories put out by the regime or the rebels, there was no of verifying the situation. 

Many of the supposed triumphs have later turned out to be empty boasts.

Assad’s regime routinely describes the insurgents as “terrorists”, claiming many are foreign and backed by money and arms from Gulf Arab states and the West.

The rebels acknowledge a minority of foreign fighters in their ranks, but say their struggle is one of Syrians for a Syria free of Assad. They reject any negotiations as long as Assad remains in power.

The observatory said that, of the 51 rebels killed on Thursday, at least five were foreigners — one Palestinian, one Turk, one Saudi and two Libyans.

A ministry spokesman said the Australian government was aware of reports that more than 100 Australians had engaged in the conflict since 2011 but he had “no evidence” of any citizens currently involved.

Lebanon, meanwhile, said it would keep its border open to receive more refugees from Syria, but called on other Arab states and the international community to make good on financial pledges to help it cope with the influx.

Lebanon, now a haven for 170,000 Syrians fleeing civil war, has asked foreign donors for $180m to help care for them and said it will register and recognise refugees after a year-long hiatus.