Twenty-six military officers, including two generals, defected from the Syrian army to Turkey overnight, Turkish state media reported on Friday.
It was the biggest mass desertion of senior soldiers from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in months.
The officers, among them two generals, 11 colonels, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors, four captains, and five lieutenants, crossed into Turkey’s border province of Hatay with their families and other foot soldiers, making a total of 71 people, state-run Anatolian news agency said.
They were taken to Apaydin camp in Hatay, where Turkey is sheltering other officers who have defected from Assad’s army. Defections of high-ranking officers to Turkey occurred almost daily during the summer but have since slowed.
Anatolian also reported that 23 wounded Syrians, including some women, had crossed into the nearby Turkish village of Besaslan and the Cilvegozu border gate from Syria overnight for medical treatment. The people had been wounded by fighting between rebels and Assad’s forces, it said.
Turkey is sheltering more than 110,000 Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their homeland in camps near the border.
Relations between Ankara and Damascus, once close allies, are at their lowest ebb since the uprising against Assad began almost 20 months ago.
Turkey has responded in kind to mortar shells hitting its soil from fighting in Syria and is discussing with its NATO allies whether to deploy Patriot defence missiles on the border.
Meanwhile, at least 12 people were killed by shelling in the eastern Syrian town of al-Qurriya on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, blaming the government for an attack which the authorities denied carrying out.
Footage posted on YouTube from al-Qurriya and dated Nov. 9 appeared to show at least five bodies lying in a street in pools of blood.
The voice of a man who is apparently filming the scene identifies the day as Nov. 9, 2012 and says the city has been subjected to “random bombardment”.
A headline bar on Syrian state TV quoted an official source denying reports of “bombardment of the city of al-Qurriya”, which is situated in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor.
But Rami Abdelrahman, head of the observatory, told Reuters that government forces had been shelling al-Qurriya from the outskirts of Al-Mayadin, some 10 kilometres to the northwest.
The position was the scene of fighting between government and rebel forces, he said.
Cries of “massacre” and “God is greatest” can be heard in the footage from al-Qurriya as the camera filmed what appeared to be lifeless bodies in civilian clothes. Two of the victims, one of whom appeared to be a young teenager, were loaded into a white truck and then driven away.