* Missiles to be used for defensive purposes - NATO chief
* Heaviest bombardment in Damascus for 40 days - activists
By Angelika Stricker
BRUSSELS, Nov 19 Turkey is expected to formally
request on Monday that advanced NATO Patriot missiles be placed
on its border to defend against Syrian attacks, Western
Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad have been
able to take large swathes of land but are almost defenceless
against Syria's air force. The rebels have called for an
internationally enforced no-fly zone, a measure that helped
Libyan rebels overthrow their long-term leader last year.
German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Germany
expected Turkey to make the request to NATO for Patriot
deployment on Monday and would study such a request "with
"But if we have a deployment of Patriots on the Turkish
border then this will happen with German soldiers," he told
reporters in Brussels, on the sidelines of a meeting of EU
Only the United States, the Netherlands and Germany have the
appropriate Patriot missile system available.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that
Turkey could count on "allied solidarity" but said that the
missiles would be purely for defence and not for creating a
no-fly zone in Syria.
In Damascus, opposition activists said that Assad's forces
had started the heaviest bombardment in 40 days of air strikes
and artillery shelling aimed at limiting gains by rebels
operating on the edge of the capital.
"Multiple rockets launchers are just making huge, random
destruction," said Rami al-Sayyed of the Syrian Media Centre, an
opposition activists' organisation monitoring Assad's crackdown
on the 20-month revolt.
BORDER CLASHES WITH KURDS
The civil war, which activists say has killed 38,000 people,
has dragged Syria's neighbours and world powers into the
conflict. Iran, Russia and China have stood by Assad as France,
Britain and the United States have called for his overthrow.
Syrian mortar rounds have fallen in Turkey, Lebanon and
Israel as rebels hug the borders looking for safety, and Turkey
is in talks with NATO allies about how to shore up security on
its 900-km (560-mile) frontier.
Turkey's border has witnessed clashes not only between the
rebels and Assad's forces but internal rebel disputes and,
increasingly, fighting between the rebels and Kurdish separatist
A Reuters cameraman on the Turkish border said that hundreds
of families had fled the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain and were
gathering at the border gate, after clashes between rebels and
Kurdish separatists who are wary of both rebels and the
The Turkish army seemed to be on high alert, sending in
military jeeps to patrol the border and stationing soldiers in
recently dug trenches along the border.
Turkey has responded in kind to Syrian mortar bombs that
land on its soil.
NATO has deployed Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Turkey
twice before, once in 1991 and then in 2003, during both Gulf
Wars. Those missiles were provided by the Netherlands.
Ankara has twice this year invoked Article 4 of the NATO
charter which provides for consultations when a member state
feels that its territorial integrity, political independence or
security is under threat.
Alexander Von Rosenbach, armed forces analyst at IHS Jane's,
said deploying Patriots to Turkey would be partly symbolic.
"It's more of a commitment from NATO to say we are behind
Turkey," he said.
Manufacturer Raytheon says Patriot provides "a
reliable and lethal capability to defeat advanced threats,
including aircraft, tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles
and UAVs (drones) ....".