German cabinet approves Patriot missiles for Turkey

BERLIN Thu Dec 6, 2012 1:51pm IST

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's cabinet agreed on Thursday to send Patriot missiles and up to 400 soldiers to Turkey to act as a deterrent against any spread of the conflict in Syria across the border, Berlin's foreign and defence ministries said.

Turkey, a NATO member hostile to Assad which has taken in thousands of refugees, says it needs the air defence batteries to shoot down any missiles that might be fired across its border.

NATO approved its request for the missiles on Tuesday. The Netherlands and the United States also plan to provide Patriot batteries. Deployment is expected to take several weeks.

Germany's parliament will vote on the mandate between December 12 and 14, said the ministries.

"The strengthening of the integrated NATO air defence in Turkey is a purely defensive measure which, as a military deterrent, will prevent the conflict within Syria spreading to Turkey," said the ministries.

"The deployment does not represent the establishment of or monitoring of a no-fly-zone over Syrian territory or any other offensive step," they added.

The Patriot deployment will come under the command of SACEUR Allied Troops in Europe, which can also order the use of Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), said the ministries.

Turkey has repeatedly scrambled jets along the countries' frontier and has responded in kind when shells from the Syrian conflict came down inside its borders, fuelling fears the civil war could spread.

However, Syria and its allies Russia and Iran have criticised the decision on the missiles, saying it increases regional instability.

Approval from Germany's Bundestag lower house is not expected to be a problem although some opposition lawmakers, mainly Greens, are against the deployment due to fears of getting caught up in a wider regional conflict.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has said he expects a broad parliamentary majority in the vote.

The foreign ministry said the suggested mandate would last until the end of January, 2014. (Reporting by Madeline Chambers, Alexandra Hudson and Hans-Edzard Busemann; editing by Patrick Graham)

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