More defections as NATO meets on Syria

DAMASCUS - Another general has defected from President Bashar Al Assad’s regime to join the growing rebel ranks in Turkey, media reports said on Monday, ahead of a crucial NATO meeting on Syria shooting down a Turkish jet.

By (AFP)

Published: Mon 25 Jun 2012, 5:54 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 2:42 PM

Turkey’s Anatolia news agency said the defection brought to 13 the number of generals seeking refuge in the country since the revolt erupted nearly 16 months ago.

It said the general, two colonels and some 30 soldiers and their families entered Turkey late on Sunday and were taken to Apaydin camp in Hatay province, some four kilometres (two and a half miles) from the border.

The defections come with NATO governments expressed mounting anger over the downing of a Turkish F-4 Phantom fighter by Syria as alliance ministers prepare to hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday on the shooting.

Ankara says the aircraft was fired on over international waters, not inside Syrian airspace as Damascus maintains, and is urging ministers to honour the collective defence rights of a fellow NATO member.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday called the incident “unacceptable.”

“This plane was not carrying arms and was on a routine flight... there was no prior warning,” he said. “This is completely unacceptable.”

In Damascus, foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Al Makdissi insisted at a news conference that the plane had been over Syria.

“The Turkish warplane violated Syrian airspace, and in turn Syrian air defences fired back and the plane crashed inside Syrian territorial waters.

“What happened is a gross violation of Syrian sovereignty.

“If the goal of the (NATO) meeting is to calm the situation and promote stability, we wish it success,” Makdissi said.

But “if the goal of the meeting is aggression, we say that Syrian airspace, territory and waters are sacred for the Syrian army, just as Turkish airspace, territory and waters are sacred for the Turkish army.”

Tuesday’s emergency NATO meeting follows a request from Ankara invoking Article Four of the alliance’s founding treaty, covering threats to members’ security.

Turkey has already acknowledged that the F-4 might at some point have entered Syrian airspace. But after an initially cautious response, it toughened its rhetoric on Sunday.

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