Wave of Syrian defections piles pressure on Assad

General says regime's forces are 'destroyed mentally and physically' as more cross border

Istanbul

Another large group of senior military officers, including a brigadier-general, have defected from Bashar al-Assad's forces, piling further pressure on the increasingly isolated Syrian leader.

The group, one of the largest to leave the Syrian army, crossed into Turkey with relatives as Nato allies prepare to discuss the shooting down of a Turkish jet by Syrian forces last Friday.

Last night, Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, said a second Turkish fighter that crossed into Syrian airspace last week to look for the missing McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom was also fired at by the Syrians.

It is understood that Turkey will today demand backing from its Nato allies at a special meeting that is already being looked upon suspiciously among Syrian leaders. Last night Syria's Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said: "Nato is supposed to be there to strengthen countries. If their meeting is for hostile reasons [they should know that] Syrian land and waters are sacred."

Earlier, the Turkish foreign ministry confirmed that a brigadier-general was the highest-ranking defector yet from Mr Assad's army. Two colonels, three majors, two lieutenants and others  entered Turkey on Sunday evening and were taken to a refugee camp.

The state-run Anatolian News Agency said 33 soldiers, including officers, defected as a total of 224 people crossed into Turkey overnight. Ankara has allowed the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) to organise itself along part of Turkey's 550-mile border with Syria. Fighters and activists regularly go back and forth smuggling weapons and supplies into Syria. Thirteen Syrian generals are reportedly now in Turkey.

The defections came  as one former Syrian general said the country's army was "destroyed physically and mentally". Brigadier General Ahmad Berro, who defected earlier this month, estimated local forces had lost around 60 per cent of the country, while the Free Army was growing in strength.

An estimated 33,000 Syrians who have fled fighting in their country are living in border refugee camps. Syrian activists claim more than 14,000 people have been killed during the 15-month uprising against Mr Assad.

Manhal Bareesh, a member of the opposition Local Co-ordination Committees, told The Independent that the growing number of opposition forces was encouraging more defections. "We have more people in each area," said Mr Bareesh, describing local activists as accessible to soldiers who wanted to defect. "Everywhere you can find them." He said opposition forces were numerous enough that a potential defector could contact them, ask that his family be taken into hiding and then escape. "Then he is free, if he wants to join the FSA or go to the Turkish camps," he said.

The Independent reported two weeks ago that Turkey was turning a blind eye to Qatar and Saudi Arabia providing the rebels with weapons, and that US forces were operating extensively in border areas, helping to control which elements of the Syrian opposition benefit from the supply of weapons and ammunition. The arms have been a fillip to the rebels, who have made gains in their battles with Syrian forces in recent weeks.

The latest defections occurred as Turkey called an extraordinary Nato meeting to discuss a response to the shooting down of one of its jets by Syria last Friday. The Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said the unarmed aircraft briefly entered Syrian territory, but was shot down 15 minutes later in international airspace. While Syria has admitted shooting down the Phantom, a foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdessi, claimed it was within Syrian territory when it was fired upon.

Describing the incident as a "clear breach of Syrian sovereignty", Mr Makdessi told reporters in Damascus that the Turkish fighter was flying so low and so fast that officials were forced to react quickly to what they described as an unidentifiable aircraft.

Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is due to address parliament today, with officials suggesting Ankara might cut off power supplies to Syria. Turkish companies supply about 10 per cent of Syria's energy needs.

Local media reported that during a meeting with opposition leaders to discuss the situation, Mr Erdogan showed them a photo of the missing crew members' boots

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Executive Assistant/Events Coordinator - Old Street, London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Executive Assistant/Event...

Female PE Teacher

£23760 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobAre you a trai...

Year 3 Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering