NATO recommits to defending Turkey's border with Syria

By Ed Adamczyk  |  March 8, 2016 at 9:55 AM
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BRUSSELS, March 8 (UPI) -- NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO would work to strengthen the Syria-Turkey border and strongly criticized Russian airstrikes in Syria, which he blamed for the refugee crisis.

Stoltenberg's statements followed a meeting in Brussels on Monday with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Stoltenberg said that intelligence, surveillance and monitoring at the border will be heightened.

"This will complement the assurance measures for Turkey we decided late last year, including more AWACS [airborne radar surveillance] presence and an increased naval presence in the east Mediterranean [Sea]," he said.

He added that Turkish air defenses will continue to be improved with NATO patriot missiles.

Davutoglu said Syrian and Russian airstrikes on the Islamic State, anti-Syrian government forces and Syrian civilians have prompted a refugee crisis, with 2.7 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey, a NATO member. He added that NATO is facing "new risks and threats" in Syria, and that Russia is increasingly targeting civilians.

Stoltenberg added that "Russia's military activity in the region has fueled the humanitarian crisis and driven more people to Turkey's borders. It has also caused violations of NATO airspace, so more than ever, it is important to see calm, de-escalation and dialogue." He mentioned, though, that a strong ceasefire remains Syria's best hope for resolution to the crisis.

Another round of peace talks, sponsored by the United Nations, are scheduled to begin this week in Geneva. Both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have called for a prompt start to the talks, and reaffirmed the need for mutual cooperation to end the five-year civil war in Syria. UN Syria envoy Staffan di Mistura attempted to convene a meeting in January to discuss a peaceful settlement, but it failed quickly.

A partial truce, begun last week, does not include the Islamic State or the al-Nusra Front, and 135 people died in Syrian hostilities in the areas covered by the ceasefire last week, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

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