Published — Tuesday 8 January 2013
Last update 8 January 2013 6:15 am
BEIRUT: The Netherlands’ Patriot missile batteries began yesterday their journey to fellow NATO member Turkey where they are to defend civilians near the border from a possible Syrian attack.
Around 160 vehicles carrying the missiles and equipment for 300 Dutch support troops left the Bestkazerne military base in Vredepeel in the southeastern Netherlands yesterday, an AFP correspondent reported.
The convoy is headed for Eemshaven port in the north of the country from where it will sail for Turkey and is expected to arrive around Jan. 22.
The US and Germany are also sending Patriot surface-to-air missiles to southeastern Turkey following a request from Ankara because of the threat of the deadly 21-month civil war in Syria spilling over.
The Turkish request came after repeated cross-border shelling from Syria, including an October attack that killed five civilians.
The Dutch Patriots and support troops will be tasked with defending the city of Adana, population 1.5 million, which lies around 100 kilometers (over 60 miles) from Syria.
Mission commander Lieutenant Colonel Marcel Buis told journalists that 30 Dutch troops would fly out today to begin setting up and the remaining 270 troops would fly out on Jan. 21.
Syria’s allies Iran and Russia oppose the Patriot deployment, fearing that it could spark regional conflict also drawing in NATO.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen last month rejected Iranian accusations that the West was preparing another world war by deploying Patriots near the border with Syria.
Meanwhile, heavy clashes erupted between Assad’s forces and fighters yesterday in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a former commercial hub. The city has been a major front in the civil war since July. Fighters have recently made gains around Aleppo, as well as in the east and in the capital Damascus, bringing the civil war closer to the seat of Assad’s power.
Earlier, a defiant speech by Bashar Assad calling for peace in Syria on his terms has met rejection by the opposition and internationally.
Assad’s plan was “detached from reality,” a US State Department spokeswoman said, while Britain said Assad’s address was “empty” and France said it was an attempt “to justify the repression of the Syrian people”.
The office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Europe’s position remained that Assad should step down to permit a political transition.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI urged diplomats to supply urgent aid to Syria to relieve civilian suffering. Benedict addressed urgent crises around the world in an annual speech to diplomats yesterday.