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— Syria sharply criticized NATO’s move to deploy Patriot missiles along its border with Turkey, calling the decision “provocative,” as the West took a major step toward a possible military role in the civil war.

After getting Cabinet approval, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters that two German Patriot batteries with a total of 400 soldiers would be sent to the border area under NATO command for one year, although the deployment could be shortened.

The announcement also appeared to be a message to Assad’s regime at a time when Washington and other governments fear Syria may be readying its chemical weapons stockpiles for possible use as fighting with the rebels in the capital, Damascus, and other areas intensifies.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated concerns Wednesday that “an increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons” or lose control of them to militant groups.

In recent days, U.S. intelligence has detected signs the Syrian regime was moving chemical weapons components around within several sites, according to a senior U.S. defense official and two U.S. officials. This type of activity had not been detected before and one of the U.S. officials said it bears further scrutiny.

Syria’s deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad insisted the deployment of the missile defense system would not affect the determination of President Bashar Assad’s government to crush the “terrorists,” using the regime’s term for rebels fighting to topple the longtime leader.

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