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Fearing Syria’s Chemical Weapons, NATO Sends Anti-Missile Systems to Turkey

December 4, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn now to the conflict in Syria.

The country’s neighbor Turkey received long-sought-after defense help today from NATO. The military coalition also expressed growing concerns about the Assad regime’s chemical weapons supply.

In the now all-too-familiar scenes of civil war, rockets blasted and fires flared over Syria today. Far from the fighting, in Brussels, NATO members approved Turkey’s request for Patriot anti-missile systems.

They will defend against Syrian shelling and rocket fire that land on the Turkish side. The issue has taken on greater urgency, amid U.S. warnings that Syria could be preparing to use chemical weapons against the rebels.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO secretary-general: The Syrian stockpiles of chemical weapons are a matter of great concerns. We know that Syria possesses missiles. We know they have the chemical weapons. It is a matter of urgency to ensure effective defense and protection of our ally Turkey.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The NATO chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, also warned of even stronger action if the Syrian government crosses the chemical line, echoing Monday’s statements by President Obama.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: If anybody resorts to these terrible weapons, I would expect an immediate reaction from the international community.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Syria has denied any intention of using chemical weapons. And Russia, a key Syrian ally, dismissed the intelligence reports as rumors.

Yesterday, in Istanbul, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he understands Turkey’s concerns about border security, but he warned that deploying Patriot missiles could raise fears of a wider conflict.

Meanwhile, inside Syria, intense fighting flared again near Damascus today. Amateur video showed government warplanes carrying out new air raids. The Syrian capital has seen escalating violence in the last week as rebels try to close the noose on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the military tries to recapture lost ground.

Amid the fighting, the state news agency reported that rebel mortar fire killed nine students and a teacher at a school outside Damascus today. The opposition also reported the incident, but didn’t say who fired the mortar.

Meanwhile, there are indications that Russia’s position on Syria may be changing. The New York Times reports that the Russians had agreed to a new strategy to persuade President Assad to step down.