Nearly three dozen Syrian soldiers and a general are said to have defected to Turkey overnight, just days after a Syrian air force pilot flew his fighter jet to Jordan and requested asylum.
A Turkish official, who was not named, said 33 soldiers, two colonels, two majors, a lieutenant, and a general in the Syrian army crossed into Turkey, CNN Turk reported. There were another 199 Syrian civilians with them.
Officials told the state-run Anadolu news agency that the defectors and their families were sent to a refugee camp in Apaydin, located in southern Turkey. Around 33,000 Syrians have defected to Turkey during the violence, the news agency said.
Thousands of soldiers have left the Syrian army, with some joining the rebel Free Syrian Army, during the 16-monthlong uprising.
Turkey has fired a salvo of criticism at Damascus after the Syrian army shot down a Turkish F-4 Phantom fighter jet. Turkey alleges that Syria shot down its plane in international airspace, while Damascus has rejected such claims, saying the plane was in Syrian airspace.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Jihad Makdessi said at a press conference, according to state-run Syrian television, that the plane violated Syria’s sovereignty, accusing Turkey of seeking “to aggravate the situation in Syria.”
The shooting down of the fighter jet drew widespread condemnation from Turkey’s allies, including the United States and NATO, of which it is a member.
Turkey, once considered a stalwart ally of Syria before the unrest began, called for a special NATO meeting on Tuesday over the downed warplane, according to a statement from the Turkish foreign ministry office.
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