BEIRUT (AP) — A Syrian general was among the latest defectors from the Syrian military, officials said Monday, after dozens of Syrian soldiers fled overnight to Turkey, crossing the border with their families.
The general defected in recent days, Turkish officials said. Then, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency, 33 soldiers crossed the border overnight, including a second general and two colonels.
But a Turkish government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules, said the group included three colonels, and there was no general.
The two accounts could not immediately be reconciled.
Thousands of soldiers have abandoned the Syrian regime, but most are low-level conscripts. The rebel Free Syrian Army — which is based in Turkey — is made up largely of defectors.
Anadolu said a total of 224 people crossed into Turkey overnight, the latest blow to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
The officer who defected separately in the last few days was a brigadier general, Turkish officials said. In January, a brigadier general appeared in Turkey, the highest ranking officer to defect up to that point.
Activists say more than 14,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, and the death toll mounts every day.
There are widespread fears that the conflict could spark regional unrest — and those fears mounted Friday when Syrian forces shot a Turkish military plane out of the sky.
Syria insists that the Turkish plane violated its air space. But Turkey disagrees, saying that though the plane had unintentionally strayed into Syria's air space, it was inside international airspace when it was brought down.
In recent days, both sides appeared to be trying to calm tensions over the incident.
Syria's Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday his country has "no hostility" toward Turkey.
"We behaved in a defensive and sovereign way," Jihad Makdissi said in the Syrian capital. He said the search was still under way for two missing Turkish airmen who were on the plane.
Ankara has called a meeting of NATO's governing body on Tuesday to discuss the incident. Allies can request such consultations if they feel their territorial integrity or security are threatened.
Turkey's Energy Minister, Taner Yildiz, meanwhile, suggested Turkey will cut electricity supplies to Syria. Turkish companies provide Syria with around 10 percent of Syria's annual power consumption. Yildiz said a decision on the issue could be announced Tuesday.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to address legislators in parliament Tuesday and reveal what measures Turkey will take against Damascus for downing down the plane.
Also Monday, the Red Cross said hundreds of civilians are trapped in the Syrian city of Homs and aid workers cannot reach them because of the fighting. Homs has been one of the hardest-hit areas in Syria as regime forces try to crush the opposition.
The defectors who crossed into Turkey overnight were brought to a refugee camp in Hatay, a province bordering Syria. Turkey is host to some 33,000 Syrians who are seeking refuge from the violence.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
|@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.|
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say. Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
|@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria|
|@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS|