ANKARA (AFP) - The Turkish army insisted Monday that any deployment by NATO of Patriot missiles on the border with Syria would be used for defensive purposes only and not to launch any attack, after Damascus warned that the move would be a “provocation”.

“The system is a purely defensive measure, against possible air and missile threats from Syria,” the army command said in a statement.

The US-made anti-aircraft and anti-missile system would not be used for the creation of a “no-fly zone” over Syria, or to “launch an attack”, it added.

Turkey last week asked its partners in NATO to deploy the Patriot missiles on the border with Syria after a series of cross-border shellings, including an attack that left five civilians dead.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Friday that such a deployment could spark a “very serious armed conflict” involving NATO.

However NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Lavrov that any deployment “would in no way support a no-fly zone or any offensive operations”, according to a spokesman for the alliance.

Tehran also warned that the deployment of missiles would “aggravate and complicate” the 20-month-old conflict in Syria.

NATO is expected soon to respond to the Turkish request, which was formally submitted last Wednesday, and a team of experts is expected to meet Turkish military officials on Monday to launch a site survey to determine possible locations for the missiles.

The army said in the statement that the site survey would begin Tuesday.

The Patriot missiles could be deployed in Diyarbakir or Sanliurfa provinces in the southeast, or Malatya province in the east, which already hosts an early warning radar as part of NATO’s missile defence system, according to the private NTV television.

The issue was being discussed at a meeting of the Turkish cabinet on Monday.