Syrian officers defect, Turkey looks to NATO
A Syrian general and 38 other soldiers defected to Turkey overnight, state television said on Monday, days after Syria shot down a Turkish warplane, escalating tensions between the two neighbours.
Turkey has summoned a NATO meeting for Tuesday to agree a response to the downing of its military reconnaissance jet in what it says was an attack without warning carried out over international airspace.
Turkey's cabinet was to meet on Monday to discuss Friday's attack, which lent a more menacing international dimension to the 16-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Britain said it could press for more serious action at the United Nations Security Council.
European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg called for a calm response from Turkey, saying they would increase pressure on Assad. There seemed little appetite, however, for any military retaliation against Syria
"Military intervention in Syria is out of the question," said Dutch foreign minister Uri Rosenthal. "It is not a matter of consideration for the Dutch government. That is also at stake in the ... context of NATO."
The new defections from Assad's armed forces could encourage those awaiting a disintegration of Assad's army. But there has been little indication of any broader trend to desertion in the senior ranks of the armed forces, bound often to Assad by their Alawite background.
A Syrian general, two colonels, two majors, a lieutenant and their families - altogether 199 people - crossed the border into Turkey overnight, CNN Turk said. Thirteen Syrian generals are now in Turkey which is giving logistical support to the Free Syrian Army, though Ankara denies arming the rebels.
Turkish newspapers welcomed Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's decision to invoke an article in the NATO alliance's founding treaty providing for urgent consultations if a member considered its security interests threatened.
"Turkey has moved into action" both Milliyet and Vatan newspapers declared in headlines under the NATO flag. Liberal Radikal daily said: "No accident, an attack".
The search for the aircraft and two messing air crew continued in the eastern Mediterranean, close to the maritime borders of both countries.