Germany is set to send Patriot missiles and soldiers to Turkey to help defend it from potential air attacks from neighboring Syria. The decision follows a formal request from Ankara to its NATO partners.
The lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag, approved the deployment of Patriot missiles by a vote of 461 in favor, 86 against and eight abstentions.
That lawmakers approved the mission came as little surprise, after Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet had done so last week. The coalition of her Christian Democrats and the liberal Free Democrats holds a majority in parliament. Only the Left party had announced prior to Friday's session, that it intended to vote as a bloc against the mission.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle stressed that the mission was of a “purely defensive” nature.
"It it is only natural for us to assist our partner and ally Turkey in the context of NATO to defend itself against an external threat," Westerwelle said.
Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière thanked his fellow lawmakers for "the speedy discussion and broad support for the mandate."
Under that mandate, Germany will send two batteries of Patriot missiles and 400 Bundeswehr soldiers to be deployed near Turkey's border with Syria.
Their mission is to run until January 2014.
Turkey formally requested assistance from its NATO allies, after a series of shells from the conflict in neighboring Syria landed on its territory earlier this year. On several occasions, Ankara responded in kind - also scrambling fighter jets along the border.
NATO foreign ministers endorsed Turkey's request at a meeting on November 30.
Just hours earlier, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta signed off on a similar US deployment of Patriots to Turkey.
"The purpose of this deployment is to signal very strongly that the United States, working closely with our NATO allies, is going to support the defense of Turkey, especially with potential threats emanating from Syria," Pentagon press secretary George Little told repoters who were traveling with Panetta on his week-long trip to the region. He signed the document just before his jet touched down in Turkey.
The Netherlands is also planning to send Patriots to Turkey. The US, Germany and the Netherlands are the only three members of the Western military alliance that have the most advanced models of Patriots, which are designed to intercept enemy missiles or aircraft.
pfd/hc (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)