Syrian soldiers defect to Turkey
Dozens of Syrian soldiers defected overnight to Turkey, crossing the border with their families as tensions between the two countries soared three days after Syrian forces shot down a Turkish military plane.
The state-run Anadolu news agency said 33 soldiers defected, including a 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. 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 yesterday 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 underway for two missing Turkish airmen who were on the plane.
Ankara has called a meeting of Nato's governing body today to discuss the incident. Allies can request such consultations if they feel their territorial integrity or security are threatened.