ISTANBUL Turkey expects NATO to make a decision about deploying surface-to-air Patriot missiles along its southern border with Syria within the next week, Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz said on Saturday.
Turkey asked NATO for the Patriot system, designed to intercept aircraft or missiles, on Wednesday after weeks of talks about how to shore up security on its 900-km (560-mile) border as the conflict in Syria deepens.
NATO said it would discuss the request "without delay" but the move has riled Syria, which called it "provocative", as well its allies, including Russia and Iran, who are hostile to any development that they perceive could be a first step towards implementing a no-fly zone.
"We asked for Patriots from NATO taking into account the critical situation that emerged on our border with Syria ... The aim is for the protection of the widest possible area in Turkey," Yilmaz told reporters.
"We expect the NATO Council to make its decision within the week," he said.
Turkey is reluctant to be drawn into a regional conflict but the proximity of Syrian bombing raids to its border is straining nerves. Ankara has repeatedly scrambled fighter jets along the frontier and responded in kind to stray Syrian shells that have crossed into its territory.
Turkish concerns deepened last week after an air assault by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad on the rebel-held frontier town of Ras al-Ain, which triggered some of the biggest refugee movements since the 20-month-old conflict began.
Turkey is a major backer of Syria's opposition and of planning for the post-Assad era, but is worried about its neighbour's chemical weapons, the refugee crisis on its border, and what it says is Syrian support for Kurdish militants on its soil.
Syrian rebels have been requesting a no-fly zone to help them hold territory against a government with overwhelming aerial firepower, but most foreign governments are loath to impose one for fear of getting dragged into the conflict.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Andrew Osborn)