ISTANBUL, (Reuters) – A Syrian general and a dozen other officers defected with their families to Turkey on Friday, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported, following heavy fighting on Turkey’s southeastern border with Syria.
Ankara said on Friday it had “intensified” talks with its NATO allies on steps to shore up security on the 900 km (560 mile) frontier with the 20-month civil war in Syria at stalemate.
State-run Anatolian agency said 53 people had crossed the border – one general, 12 other officers and an unspecified number of soldiers and their families.
They crossed into Turkey’s southern Hatay province and were sent by local authorities to the Apaydin refugee camp, Today’s Zaman newspaper reported on its website.
A foreign ministry official could not immediately confirm the report. It follows the reported defection on Nov. 9 of 26 military officers, including two generals.
With winter setting in, dozens of Syrian military officers are holed up in Turkish camps, along with about 120,000 civilian refugees.
Alarmed by the refugee influx and the instability on its border, Turkey has called for the creation of a buffer zone inside Syria and is in talks with NATO on the possible deployment of Patriot surface-to-air missiles.
Concern in Ankara deepened this week with an air assault by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad on the rebel-held frontier town of Ras al-Ain.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Friday Ankara had stepped up consultations with NATO.
“This week especially we intensified our consultations regarding the security risks on our border,” Davutoglu told Reuters in Addis Ababa, speaking in English.
Turkey says the deployment of Patriot missiles would be a defensive step, but it could also be a prelude to a no-fly zone inside Syria to limit Assad’s air power.
Turkey scrambled fighter jets to the border on Wednesday, the third day of an air assault by Syrian warplanes trying to dislodge rebels in Ras al-Ain. The town was largely quiet on Thursday and Friday.