Over 70 Syrian Officers Defect to Turkey
As many as 73 Syrian military officers defected from the Syrian army and have crossed the border into Turkey with their families, the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Friday.
According to the report, the 73 defecting officers included seven generals and 20 colonels. They were part of a group totaling 202 Syrians who arrived in the border town of Reyhanli.
They were taken to a Turkish refugee camp that houses military officers who have defected from the Syrian army, reported Anadolu.
The report did not say when they had arrived and Turkish Foreign Ministry officials and the local administrator in Reyhanli could not immediately confirm the report.
This is one of the largest, if not the largest, defections from Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s army since the start of the popular uprising against him in March 2011, which has turned into a civil war that has killed more than 90,000 people.
Some analysts have predicted that the scales in the war would be tipped in favor of the rebels seeking to oust Assad only if and when there are many defections from his army, including by high-ranking officers.
Since the start of the conflict between Assad's regime and rebel forces, dozens of senior army officers including some 40 generals have defected and headed to Turkey.
Some of the defectors have entered Jordan, such as the Syrian army's logistics chief, General Mohammed Khalluf, who reportedly defected to the Hashemite kingdom in March.
Former Syrian premier Riad Hijab defected to Jordan in August 2012.
One of the most senior members of the Assad regime to defect was Jihad Makdissi, the Syrian government's former spokesman who defected in late November.
Later reports indicated that Makdissi is co-operating with U.S. intelligence officials who helped him flee to Washington.
The report of the defections come hours after U.S. President Barack Obama authorized lethal aid to Syrian rebels, after the U.S. said that it had conclusive evidence that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons against rebels.
The White House has clarified that it has no plans to set up a no-fly zone over Syria.
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes explained on Friday that it would be dramatically more difficult and costly to set up a no-fly zone over Syria than it was in Libya. The no-fly zone over Libya was one of the key factors that helped rebels there oust longtime strongman Muammar Qaddafi.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)