Nato approves Patriot missiles to help Turkey to defend against Syrian attack
Alliance move comes amid concerns Damascus readying chemical weapons to use against rebels
Nato has approved Turkey's request for Patriot missiles to defend its border against Syria following a series of blunt warnings to Damascus not to use chemical weapons.
As the conflict approached the 21-month mark with more than 41,000 people killed, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Nato head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance's decision reflected a "steadfast commitment" to preserving the security of its 28 member states.
"We say to anyone who would want to attack Turkey - don't even think about it," he remarked on Tuesday, announcing the decision after the first day of a two-day meeting in Brussels.
Nato said in a statement that it had "agreed to augment Turkey's air defence capabilities in order to defend the population and territory of Turkey and to contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along the alliance's border".
Germany, the Netherlands and the United States have agreed to provide the Patriot missile batteries, which would come under the command of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, the statement said.
Stressing that the Patriot system was purely defensive, Rasmussen said technical discussions would now follow about how many of the US-made Patriots would be deployed and where.
The Nato discussions came amid reports that Syria is moving chemical weapons as President Bashar al-Assad fights rebels seeking to oust him.
"Nato members expressed grave concerns about reports that the Syrian regime is considering the use of chemical weapons," Rasmussen said. "Any such action would be completely unacceptable and a clear breach of international law."
Earlier, Rasmussen said he would "expect an immediate reaction from the international community" if Damascus were to use such weapons.
On Monday, US President Barack Obama warned Assad against using chemical weapons, saying there would be "consequences" for such an action.
France said it would take a "very strong position" against any chemical weapons use, although Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stressed that reports on Syria moving its chemical arms stocks "have not been verified or confirmed".
Confirmation of a Syrian chemical weapons threat "would demand an immediate reaction from the international community", Fabius said.