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Turkey may deploy missiles on Syria border to aid rebels

  • Article by: NEIL MacFARQUHAR and RICK GLADSTONE
  • New York Times
  • November 7, 2012 - 8:57 PM

BEIRUT, LEBANON - Turkish officials said on Wednesday that they were considering the deployment of Patriot missiles along the Turkey-Syria border, a move that could provide protection for Syrian rebels by creating a no-fly zone over northern Syria.

The development, coming only hours after President Obama won re-election, raised speculation that the United States and its allies were working on a more robust plan to deal with the 20-month-old conflict in Syria during Obama's second term.

Further reinforcing that speculation, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was prepared to open direct lines of communication with Syrian rebel commanders.

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, was quoted by Turkish news media as saying that Turkey, as a NATO member, may seek Patriot missiles to install along its southern border with Syria, which could protect Syrian insurgent safe zones. But the missiles, which have a range of at least 40 miles, could also create the basis for a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, giving an important protection to the rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Assad.

Cameron, on a visit to Jordan, said Britain, along with other allies opposed to Assad, should do more to help the opposition, including the establishment of direct contacts with rebel forces inside Syria.

He said the allies should "help them achieve their goal, which is our goal of a Syria without Assad."

Rebel escalate attacks

Cameron spoke as Syrian insurgents escalated attacks on targets within earshot of Assad's hilltop Damascus palace, blowing up a judge in his car and lobbing mortar shells at a neighborhood that houses central government offices and a military airfield.

The assassination of the judge, reported by the official news agency, SANA, was the second high-profile killing of a top Assad loyalist in the Syrian capital in two days and added to the impression that the Syrian insurgency had intensified in the face of sputtering international diplomacy aimed at resolving the conflict.

SANA said the judge, Abad Nadhwah, died instantly when a remotely detonated bomb exploded under his car.

SANA attributed both assassinations to terrorists, the government's catchall term for Assad's opponents.

Activist groups said the judge's assassination was part of a particularly violent day in the capital, during which at least four mortar attacks shook the Mezze 86 neighborhood, a hilltop enclave populated by Assad's minority Alawite sect near the presidential palace.

Activists said that the attackers had been aiming for the palace but that the mortar shells hit the administrative offices of the prime minister and a military airfield.

The ability of rebels to strike so close to Assad's center of power appeared to reflect the tenacity of the insurgency, which began in March 2011 as a peaceful pro-democracy uprising.

Wednesday's fighting was heaviest in the suburbs of Damascus, including in Ghouta and Harasta to the east of the capital, activists said. The Syrian military has been shelling another suburb, Beit Saham, with tanks and mortars, killing at least 18 people in that neighborhood alone, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Thaer al-Dimashqi, an activist based in a southern suburb of the capital, said the shelling of Beit Saham wounded 30 people.

"The situation is catastrophic in the area," Al-Dimashqi said via Skype, adding that the rebels have launched a major attack on southern neighborhoods of the capital and that anti-government gunmen have seized control of sections of them.

"The FSA controls large parts of Tadamon, but the reaction by the regime has been brutal with intense shelling," Al-Dimashqi said.

Palestinians fighting back

Observatory chief Rami Abdul-Rahman confirmed the fighting in Tadamon and said rebels have been lobbing mortar rounds into a nearby Palestinian refugee camp. The pro-regime faction of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command has been fighting back, Abdul-Rahman said.

When Syria's unrest began last year, the Palestinians struggled to stay on the sidelines. But in recent months, many Palestinians started supporting the uprising although they insisted the opposition to the regime should be peaceful.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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