(MENAFN - Arab News) Dozens of Syrian Army defectors including a general fled to Turkey overnight to join the swelling ranks of rebels based near the border as tensions escalate between the two neighbors.
One general, two colonels and some 30 soldiers accompanied by their families made a total of 196 individuals who crossed into Turkey late on Sunday, the Anatolia news agency reported.
The latest defection brought to 13 the number of generals seeking refuge in Turkey since the revolt against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime erupted 16 months ago.
Additionally, 28 Syrian civilians mostly women and children also fled to Turkey and were taken to a camp in Sanliurfa province near the border, said Anatolia.
But the defectors, together with their families, were taken to Apaydin camp in Hatay province, some four kilometers from the border, which mainly houses army deserters and their families.
The Turkish foreign ministry has barred access to the camp to journalists for any interviews with the rebels or photo coverage.
It is not known what the defectors do in the camps but sources say they leave regularly to help other refugees make the hazardous trip across the border.
Ankara has summoned an emergency NATO meeting for Tuesday after saying the F4 Phantom was downed over international waters, while admitting that it may have briefly violated Syrian airspace.
Meanwhile, Syria described its shooting down of a Turkish warplane as an act of self-defense and warned Turkey and its NATO allies against any retaliatory measures.
Syria's account of Friday's shooting down, though tempered with commitment to a "neighborly relationship", seemed likely to further anger Ankara.
"NATO is supposed to be there to strengthen countries," Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told a Damascus news conference. "If their meeting is for hostile reasons (they should know that) Syrian land and waters are sacred."
Turkey says the wreckage of the aircraft, shot down close to the Mediterranean maritime borders of both states, is lying in deep water. Makdissi said some flotsam had been found and turned over to Turkey. There was no word on the two airmen.
In Ankara, Turkish air force chiefs briefed both President Abdullah Gul, the commander of the armed forces, and the Cabinet on what Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said would be a "decisive" response. Turkey also said it would take the matter to the United Nations Security Council.
Meanwhile, in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers yesterday condemned Syria's downing of a Turkish jet, but said the bloc will not support military action in the troubled country.
"What happened is to be considered very seriously (but) we do not go for any interventions," Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also urged calm. "I think it is still important that we continue to work on a political solution (to the Syrian crisis)," Westerwelle said as he arrived for a regular meeting of EU ministers.
"De-escalation is crucial at this moment." EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the bloc will add another Syrian official and six firms and government institutions to its sanctions list yesterday. The list already includes over 120 individuals and nearly 50 institutions.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the move, saying further action also was taken to strengthen the arms embargo. "Sanctions against banking, military and state media entities (send) an unequivocal message that we will intensify the pressure until the Assad regime ends the killing and implements (UN envoy Kofi) Annan's six-point plan in full," he said.