12/04/2012, 00.00
TURKEY - SYRIA

Turkish missiles and US threats against Syrian chemical weapons

Ankara calls on NATO to deploy Patriot missiles. Obama warns Damascus against "the tragic mistake" of using these weapons. Syria insists it would never use them against its own people. UN and EU reduce staff in Damascus. Israel would like to take out Syria's chemical weapon depots.

Istanbul (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Tensions and confrontation are growing between Turkey, NATO, the United States and Syria. Ankara has asked its NATO allies to deploy Patriot missiles on its territory to defend Turkey from Syrian missiles. At the same time, the Obama administration warned of "consequences" if Damascus used chemical weapons.

NATO foreign ministers are meeting today in Brussels to decide on the deployment of the Patriot missiles. Some ministers said that the operation will receive the green light on condition that the missile batteries are used for defensive, not offensive purposes. A Russian representative will be present at the NATO meeting. Moscow is opposed to the missiles.

Ankara's request coincides with Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Turkey where he tried to dissuade Turkish leaders from going ahead with the deployment. "As they say, if a gun is hung on the wall at the start of a play, then at the end of the play it will definitely fire," the Russian leader said.

However, Turkish and Israeli intelligence sources are reporting that Syria is getting ready to use weapons with chemical warheads. Syria is known to have stockpiled deadly chemicals, including the deadly nerve agent sarin, but has always insisted that it would never use them.

In a statement, US President Barack Obama warned Damascus that it would face "consequences" if it made "the tragic mistake of using these weapons". US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a similar statement during a visit to Prague. In response, a Syrian official insisted that his government would "never, under any circumstances" use such weapons, "if such weapons exist".

Last week, the daily Haaretz reported that Netanyahu had asked Jordan several times for help attack Syrian chemical weapon facilities, without success.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and the European Union are evacuating all non-essential personnel from their offices in Damascus, cutting back their work because of security considerations.

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