Ankara: In an incident that is bound to escalate tensions between Damascus and Ankara, dozens of members of the Syrian military have defected to Turkey.
Reports say 38 soldiers crossed into Turkey on Sunday night and the group — 224 people in all — included a general and two colonels.
A government official, however, said the group included three colonels and there was no general among them. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules, did not know the overall number of defectors and the two accounts could not immediately be reconciled.
The ties between Syria and Turkey are already tense after the former shot down the latter’s fighter jet last week.
The Anadolu Agency said on Monday that the group of defectors was placed in a refugee camp in Hatay, a province bordering Syria but there was no further information. Turkey is hosting some 33,000 Syrians who have crossed into Turkey to find refuge from the 15-months old violence.
Thousands of soldiers have abandoned the regime, but most are low-level conscripts. The Free Syria Army — the loosely linked group of rebel forces — is made up largely of defectors.
Defectors affiliated with the Free Syrian Army and based in Turkey are known to collect food and other supplies to deliver to comrades on smuggling routes.
The government official said another group of some 60 army defectors had also crossed into Turkey recently.
(With Agency inputs)