Towards WWIII? NATO to defend Turkey, British troops may deploy to Syrian border, Israel fires on Syrian positions

SYRIA – NATO will defend alliance member Turkey, which struck back after mortar rounds fired from Syria landed inside its border, the alliance’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a meeting in Prague on Monday. “NATO as an organization will do what it takes to protect and defend Turkey, our ally. We have more plans in place to make sure that we can protect and defend Turkey and hopefully that way also deter so that attacks on Turkey will not take place,” he said. Rasmussen also welcomed a weekend agreement by Syrian opposition groups to put aside differences and form a new coalition. A Syrian fighter jet on Monday bombed an area near the Turkish border, causing several casualties, officials and witnesses said. An Associated Press video journalist saw the plane bomb an area around the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn, some 10 meters (yards) from the Turkish border. Meanwhile, the Free Syrian Army, the main armed opposition group, downed a regime helicopter flying above the al-Hamdan airport in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor on Monday, Al Arabiya reported. Last week the rebels overran three security compounds in the town, located in the predominantly Kurdish oil-producing northeastern province of al-Hasaka, wresting control from the regime forces. An official at the local mayor’s office said Turkish ambulances were carrying several injured Syrians to a hospital, across the border in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. The force of the blast shattered shop windows in Ceylanpinar, in southeastern Turkey, the official said. It was not clear if anyone in Ceylanpinar was injured in the bombing. The fighting in Ras al-Ayn touched off a massive flow of refugees two days ago, and more refugees were seen coming after the blast. Earlier, a Syrian helicopter bombed rebel positions in an area further south of Ras al-Ayn and the rebels could be heard responding with machine guns, the official said. –Al Arabiya News

British troops to be deployed on Syrian border: British troops could be deployed around Syria’s borders in the event of a worsening humanitarian crisis, the head of the armed forces warned yesterday. General Sir David Richards, the Chief of General Staff, said that contingency plans for military intervention are being “continually brushed over” as Syria’s civil war continues. He stressed that any troop involvement would be limited and conditional on the support of people in the affected area, but his remarks raise the spectre of the UK being involved in another conflict at a time when the West is trying to extract itself from the 11-year war in Afghanistan. General Richards told BBC1′s Andrew Marr programme that the UK’s main concern is preventing the Syrian civil war from spilling across borders into Jordan, Lebanon, or especially Turkey, a NATO ally. But with the humanitarian situation likely to worsen over the winter, he anticipated that political pressure for the Army to intervene would increase, though they would have to be “very cautious” about embarking on what would be a “huge effort.” –Telegraph

Israel fires on Syrian positions: IDF tanks fired into Syria on Monday for the second time in as many days, after a Syrian mortar shell landed in the Golan Heights. The events played out in a similar sequence to those on Sunday, when an errant Syrian shell elicited an Israeli warning shot at the Syrian military for the first time since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. On Monday, however, the IDF said it shot “at the source of the fire in Syria,” and scored a “direct hit,” taking out two mortar launchers. The Syrian shell landed near an IDF outpost in Hazeka on the Golan. Army Radio reported that there were no injuries or damage from the shell, which hit as Israel suffered a barrage of missiles from Gaza, putting the IDF in the position of monitoring enemy fire along both the northern and southern borders. After Sunday’s mortar shell exploded, Israel sent a warning message to the UN, saying that any further firing into Israel will result “in a real response.” On Sunday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for restraint on behalf of Israel and Syria. Ban’s office said “the Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the potential for escalation. He calls for the utmost restraint and urges Syria and Israel to uphold the Disengagement Agreement, respect their mutual obligations, and halt firing of any kind across the ceasefire line.” The IDF limited its return fire to a single missile, since its policy is to only fire intensively in response to coming under major Syrian fire. Syria has been in the midst of a brutal civil war for over a year, and the IDF has been instructed to prevent the battles from spilling over into our territory. At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that Israel was closely following events along the Syrian border, and was prepared for all possibilities on that front. –Jerusalem Post

Iran conducts largest air-defense drills ever: A joint air defense exercise of the Armed Forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) began in eastern Iran on Monday. The four-day military drill, entitled the Defenders of the Sky of Velayat 4, is being conducted in an area covering 850,000 square kilometers with the participation of 8000 Iranian military forces. The maneuvers are being carried out to enhance military capabilities of Iranian forces and provide them with an opportunity to practice modern military tactics to counter new military threats against the country. During the first stage of the exercise on Monday, air defense, radar, missile, surveillance, artillery, and lookout systems were deployed across the theater of operation. Surveillance planes took photographs of and gathered information about the theatre of operation and transmitted them to ground control centers in the quickest time possible. Lookouts were quickly stationed in their positions and established multi-layer and safe communications to transfer information about the theater of operation to the country’s integrated air defense network. According to military officials, the mobility of troops, the movement of defense systems, and the coordination between armed forces were assessed during the first stage of the exercise. Brigadier General Shahrokh Shahram, the spokesman for the maneuvers, said on Sunday that new domestically designed defense systems would be unveiled during the war games. Iran’s vice president said Monday that Tehran will break the ‘grasping hands’ of newly re-elected President Barack Obama, the official IRNA news agency reported. –Tehran Times
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