By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
ANKARA, Turkey — Thirty-three members of Syria’s military defected into Turkey on Sunday night. They were part of some two hundred people who crossed between the Syrian-Turkish border into the Hatay Province. Turkey’s state-run Andalou news agency said the group included a general and two colonels, but a government official claimed that there was no general among the group, only three colonels. Despite this, the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, did not know the overall number of those who crossed into Turkey. Andalou also reported that the group of defectors was placed in a refugee camp in Hatay. Turkey now hosts 33,000 Syrian refugees who have crossed into the country since the revolt against Al-Assad began 16 months ago.
The recent defections have increased the number of generals within Turkey since the revolution began to thirteen. The generals now give logistical support to the Free Syrian Army, even though Turkey denies that they are arming the rebels. Thousands of soldiers have also abandoned the Syrian regime, but most of them are low-level conscripts. So far, there is no evidence that their defections have negatively affected the Syrian military’s ability to fight.
Two days prior to the defections, a Turkish aircraft was shot down by Syrian forces who claim that it had violated their airspace. Bulent Arinc, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, said that “all options are on the table” for Turkey’s response. Earlier on Monday, Jihad Makdissi, Syria’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman, said that “[t]he Turkish warplane violated Syrian airspace, and in turn Syrian air defences fired back and the plane crashed inside Syrian territorial waters.” Turkey claims that the plane was in international airspace, and that the plane was on a training flight to test Turkey’s radar capabilities. Turkey also insists that it was not spying on Syria.
Turkey has summoned a meeting with NATO for Tuesday to agree on a response to the downing of its aircraft. European Union members in Luxembourg requested a calm response from Turkey, saying that they would increase pressure on Assad. On Monday, EU spokesman Maja Kocijanci said that the EU decided to add another Syrian official and six firms and government institutions to its sanctions list, which already includes 120 individuals and nearly 50 entities.
Analysts believe it is unlikely that Turkey will take immediate military action against Syria. Cagri Erhan, a professor of political science at Ankara University, said “I don’t think Turkey’s response will be a military one. War is not one of the options. Turkey will act in line with measures taken within NATO.”
“I’m not of the opinion that Turkey will immediately respond militarily,” agreed Beril Dedeoglu of Galatasaray University. “But if there is another action, then there will certainly be a military response, there is no doubt.”
For further information, please see:
Anadolu Agency — Thirty-three Syrian Army Defectors Fled to Turkey — 25 June 2012
Al Jazeera — Turkish Cabinet Meets to Discuss Syria Crisis — 25 June 2012
BBC News — Syria General and two Colonels ‘Defect to Turkey’ — 25 June 2012
Gulf News — 33 Syria Military Members Defect to Turkey — 25 June 2012
Reuters — Syrian Officers Defect, Turkey Looks to NATO — 25 June 2012