Iran lashed out on Friday at Turkey for requesting that NATO supply it with Patriot surface-to-air missiles to deploy along the border with Syria, denouncing the step by Ankara as counterproductive.
Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani made the remarks after a visit to Damascus, a show of support by Tehran to its increasingly diplomatically isolated ally.
“The internal crisis in Syria cannot be solved through the deployment of such weapons,” Larijani, who is close to the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, said at a news conference in Beirut where he went after leaving Syria.
Turkey’s request earlier this week follows several incidents in which violence has spilled across the border from the civil war in Syria, frequently mortar rounds falling a short distance inside. Patriots would be useful in intercepting ballistic missiles — a much more serious, but still hypothetical threat.
NATO said on Wednesday it would consider the request “without delay.”
The Syrian Foreign Ministry also criticized the Turkish move, calling it “a new provocative step.”
Larijani, who met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus earlier on Friday, said Iran was seeking a peaceful solution to the war in Syria.
“The difference between us and the others when it comes to Syria is that the others want to impose democracy through weapons,” he said. “Iran cannot accept or support such a way.”
“I don’t think democracy can be achieved through rocket-propelled grenades,” he added.
Iran is al-Assad’s strongest ally in the region, and anti-government activists accuse Tehran of sending both weapons and fighters to Syria.
Syria’s conflict erupted in March last year with an uprising against al-Assad’s regime, inspired by other Arab Spring revolts, but quickly morphed into a civil war that has since killed more than 40,000 people, according to activists.
In violence around Syria on Friday, Islamic extremists, including members of the al-Qaeda-inspired Jabhat al-Nusra group, battled with pro-government Kurdish gunmen in the northern town of Ras al-Ayan near the border with Turkey, activists said.
Kurdish activist Mustafa Osso and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had no reports of casualties. The Islamic militants entered the town earlier this month and have since clashed almost daily with the Kurdish gunmen. Both factions add to the complexity of Syria’s conflict.
When government forces withdrew from Kurdish areas in northeastern Syria in July, they were quickly replaced by Kurdish fighters from the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), who would then battle rebels when they pushed their way into predominantly Kurdish areas. The Kurdish group is affiliated with the PKK, rebels fighting for autonomy in the Kurdish-dominated southeast region of Turkey.
The Islamic militants, who are fighting on the side of the rebels, have played a bigger role in the Syrian conflict in recent months and many openly say they want to set up an Islamic state. The opposition is split, with some groups strongly opposed to the influence of extremists.
In Damascus, regime forces shelled the neighborhoods of Tadamon and Hajar Aswad, where rebels and government troops have clashed for weeks, and also raided the central Damascus neighborhood of Bab Sreijeh, arresting several people there, the Observatory said. In the nearby Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, activists said a bomb blast killed four people and seriously wounded a member of a faction that has backed al-Assad in the country’s bitter civil war.