Nato 'is ready to defend Turkey'

Nato has declared it is ready to defend Turkey amid artillery exchanges along its tense south-eastern border with Syria.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that Ankara can rely on the alliance, which has "all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary."

But he appealed to all parties involved to show restraint and avoid an escalation in the crisis.

Turkey and Syria have exchanged mortar and cannon fire across their common border since errant Syrian shells killed five Turkish civilians last week. The border region has been the scene of bloody clashed between Syrian government forces and rebel militants who have used safe havens within Turkey.

Syria says it is not seeking any escalation of violence with Turkey.

Analysts say the alliance is reluctant to involve itself militarily in another conflict at a time when its main priority is the war in Afghanistan and the handover of responsibility for security to Afghan government forces.

"We hope that all parties involved (in the Syrian crisis) will show restrain, and avoid an escalation of the crisis," Mr Fogh Rasmussen said. "I do believe that the right way forward in Syria is political solution."

His comments came as the Dogan news agency quoted unidentified military sources as saying that at least 25 additional F-16 fighter jets were deployed at Turkey's Diyarbakir air base in the south-east.

The Turkish military's chief of staff also inspected troops along the border with Syria.

The move is seen as bolstering Turkish forces along the Iraqi border. Turkish jets struck Kurdish rebel targets in two separate cross-border raids in northern Iraq on Sunday despite warnings from Baghdad.