Nato to consider Turkey's Patriot missile request

Image caption,
Patriot anti-missile batteries were deployed at Diyarbakir airbase in Turkey during the invasion of Iraq in 2003

Nato says it will consider "without delay" Turkey's request to deploy Patriot anti-missile systems to protect its border with the unrest-torn Syria.

The comments were made by the military bloc's chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Germany's foreign minister has already said the request by Turkey, a Nato member, should be approved.

On several occasions last month, Turkey's army returned fire across the border into Syria after Syrian mortar shells landed inside its territory.

The exchange of fire followed the deaths of five Turkish civilians in Syrian shelling.

'Exposed to attacks'

On Wednesday, Mr Rasmussen said he had received a letter from Turkey - a Nato member - to deploy Patriot missiles.

He said such a move would "augment Turkey's air defence capabilities" and "contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along Nato's south-eastern border".

Patriot batteries use radar to locate incoming missiles. Surface-to-air missiles are then launched from giant containers and are guided onto their targets.

The system has been extensively used by the US and allied troops since it was first deployed in 1986. It has previously been deployed in Turkey during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he had instructed the country's ambassador to Nato to approve Ankara's request for a further deployment of the system.

"It would be a serious mistake if we were to refuse defensive support to a Nato member country in a moment when this member country feels that it is exposed to attacks from outside," Mr Westerwelle said.

Until last year, Turkey and Syria were close allies, but Ankara is now backing the Syrian opposition and calls for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad.

While Turkey may not be at war with Syria, correspondents say it is now increasingly involved in its neighbour's conflict.

Turkey has a 900km (560 miles) border with Syria.