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Syria Renews Border Attacks as NATO Seeks Missile Sites

Syrian warplanes attacked targets close to the Turkish border for the second consecutive day as North Atlantic Treaty Organization officers arrived to select missile sites to counter President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

U.S., Dutch and German officers representing the three NATO countries with Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries visited Turkish provinces near the Syrian border today, authorities said. As work began, Assad’s jets struck the town of Harim, the state-run Anatolia news agency said. That followed yesterday’s bombing of a Turkish-sponsored refugee camp near the Syrian town of Atma that sent thousands of people streaming toward the frontier.

Russia renewed its opposition to NATO’s involvement today, with Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Denisov telling a Berlin press conference “we don’t like this plan.” The alliance’s aims were unclear: “Who’s threatened? Where’s the threat coming from?” he said. Iran has also opposed the move.

Turkey’s military said yesterday that the Patriots were a purely defensive measure and won’t be used to enforce a “no-fly zone” or to launch attacks.

Before the start of Syria’s civil conflict 20 months ago, Turkey and Syria’s bilateral relationship was so close that in 2008 Assad and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vacationed together with their families. Since the destruction of a Turkish jet in June, the deaths of five Turks killed by a mortar round from Syria last month and the use by rebels of Turkish bases, military tension has sharply increased.

‘Increasing Scale’

The Syrian crisis “has not shown any sign of resolution and the regime’s attacks on the civilian population, as well as the clashes have continued on an increasing scale,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said on Twitter today.

A Syrian air attack on an olive press killed at least 20 people and wounded “dozens” in the northern city of Idlib, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said today. Rebels meanwhile said they shot down a Syrian helicopter near the city of Aleppo, according to Al Jazeera television today.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will visit Turkey from Dec. 7 to 8, Unal said in his Twitter posting. Ban may visit a refugee camp on the Syrian border, he said.

Putin Visit

Any Patriot deployment would aim to augment Turkey’s air-defense capabilities, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Nov. 21. The alliance will make a final decision based on the expert report. Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Turkey on Dec. 3 and the issue may be discussed in talks with Erdogan.

Turkey yesterday scrambled warplanes after the Atma attack, which destroyed more than 200 empty tents at a refugee camp being set up by the pro-Islamic Turkish aid group, Humanitarian Relief Foundation or IHH, the state-run Anatolia said today. It was not clear if Syrian jets were targeting the Turkish-sponsored camp.

Thousands of Syrians who fled after the attacks were today huddled on the Turkish border and waiting to cross to safety, the Foreign Ministry said today. Turkey accepts refugees once a place has been found for them at refugee camps, a process which can take days or weeks. About 180,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey so far, Erdogan said on Nov. 25.

Turkey’s exports to Syria have dropped by some 70 percent over the past year, Mehmet Buyukeksi, head of the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly told a news conference in Istanbul today.

The Turkish government has called on Assad to step down and has allowed Syrian officers to command the rebel Free Syrian Army from a refugee camp inside Turkey, and opposition fighters frequently cross into Turkey to obtain food, medicine and clothes. Turkey denies arming the rebels.

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