NATO sends German Patriot units to Turkey's Syria border
NATO was Tuesday sending Patriot missile defence systems to help Turkey defend its border with Syria, with a German unit due to set sail from a Baltic Sea port, dpa reported.
US and Dutch Patriot units are also en route to southern Turkey, where rockets from Syria have hit civilian areas, leading Turkey to return cross-border fire in recent months.
German and Dutch advance troops were set to fly to Turkey on Tuesday as the German military loaded 130 containers and 300 vehicles onto a chartered Danish ferry at Luebeck-Travemuende port.
The cargo was headed for the Turkish port of Iskenderun, where it was set to be received by some 170 troops on January 21 and trucked to the town of Kahramanmaras, 100 kilometres from the border.
Germany is deploying about 350 troops with the Patriots on a mission that NATO and Berlin stress is a purely defensive operation, meant to support alliance member Turkey.
Relations between Ankara and Damascus have deteriorated sharply since the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad started cracking down on its opponents in March 2011.
The conflict has since turned into a civil war that has claimed more than 60,000 lives, according to the United Nations, devastated vast areas and created hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Isolated al-Assad in a rare speech Sunday dismissed the rebels as Western "puppets," earning him a hailstorm of criticism. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon branded the speech a "disappointment."