Germany approves Patriot missiles for Turkey
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, on Friday approved the sending of two Patriot batteries and 400 soldiers to Turkey as part of a NATO plan to protect the country from any spread of the Syrian conflict.
Turkey, a NATO member which has taken in thousands of Syrian refugees, says it needs the surface-to-air defense batteries to shoot down any missiles that might be fired across its border.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition agreed to Turkey's request last week but needed the approval of the Bundestag for the deployment to go ahead. Lawmakers approved the help by 461 votes for and 86 against.
The German mandate lasts until January 2014.
The deployment, expected to take several weeks, comes as fighting between rebels and President Bashar al-Assad's forces begins to shake the heart of his power in Damascus in a conflict that has so far killed at least 40,000 people.
Some left-leaning German lawmakers including Greens have criticized the Patriot plan, fearing it may stoke a wider regional conflict. Merkel's government has stressed the defensive nature of the batteries.
The United States and the Netherlands will also send Patriot batteries and military personnel to Turkey.
Syria and its allies Russia and Iran have criticized the NATO decision, saying it increases regional tensions.
Each truck-mounted German Patriot battery consists of a command post, a radar to track incoming missiles, and up to eight launchers with up to eight Patriot missiles each.
The system can simultaneously track 50 targets and shoot down five. It takes about 85 soldiers to work one battery plus logistical support.
Patriot missiles have a maximum range of 20 km (12 miles) and defense experts said it would be hard for six Patriot batteries to defend the 560 mile Turkish-Syrian border.
(Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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