Last updated: 29 November, 2012

Turkey president says Syrian attack unlikely

A Syrian attack against Turkey is unlikely and would be considered “madness”, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Thursday as Ankara asked NATO to deploy surface-to-air missiles along their volatile border.

He was speaking a day after a team of NATO experts began a survey of sites near the Syrian border that would serve as suitable locations for the deployment of US-made Patriot missiles.

“I honestly think that a direct threat against Turkey by Syria is unlikely because that would be madness,” Gul was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.

Gul said the deployment would be for defensive purposes only, calling it a “precautionary measure” to minimise any dangers emanating from Syria.

“An attack (by Turkey on Syria) is out of the question,” he added.

Turkey turned to its NATO allies and placed an official request last week for the deployment of Patriot missiles after a series of cross-border shellings, including an attack that left five civilians dead.

NATO has yet to formally respond to the request, but the US ambassador to Turkey for one said Washington backed the bid.

“We look favourably on this. Other members of NATO look favourably on it,” ambassador Francis Ricciardone said Wednesday.

But the Syrian regime’s allies Russia and Iran are deeply opposed to the move, fearing such a deployment could spark broader conflict.

It is not yet clear where and how many Patriots would be deployed, but possible locations include the south eastern provinces of Diyarbakir or Sanliurfa or Malatya in the east, which already hosts an early warning radar as part of NATO’s missile defence system.

Local media said Turkey asked NATO to deploy up to 20 Patriot missiles but that the alliance could only offer eight to 10.

Ankara has been strengthening its defences along the border with anti-aircraft batteries and tanks since June 22, when one of its F4 fighter jets was downed by Syria along with two pilots for a brief violation of Syrian airspace.

Last month, Syrian shells fired across the border killed five Turkish civilians including three children, prompting border units to retaliate.

After both incidents, Ankara asked the NATO military alliance to take measures to protect its border and contain the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 40,000 people in 20 months and sent more than 120,000 refugees into Turkey.