AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
BEIRUT: Another general has defected from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to join the growing rebel ranks in Turkey, media reports said today, ahead of a crucial NATO meeting on Syria shooting down a Turkish jet.
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 tomorrow 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 Syria’s downing of the alliance jet ‘unacceptable’. “This plane was not carrying arms and was on a routine flight... there was no prior warning,” he said. “This is completely unacceptable.”
Tomorrow’s emergency NATO meeting follows a request from Ankara invoking Article Four of the alliance’s founding treaty, which covers threats to members’ security.
Turkey has already acknowledged that its warplane might at some point have entered Syrian airspace. But after an initially cautious response, it toughened its rhetoric on Sunday.