Before the 16-month uprising began, Syria and Turkey were close allies and the families of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan even vacationed together. The two countries held joint military exercises and joint cabinet meetings — recent developments show how very much things have changed.
High-ranking Syrian Army Officers Defect
Over the weekend, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said that 33 Syrian soldiers, including a general and two colonels and their families, crossed the border into Turkey as part of a group with 224 people. However, Turkish government officials said that no general had defected and that the number of Syrians defecting was unknown.
While thousands of soldiers have defected, most have been so far been low-level conscripts, notes the Guardian.
The defectors have been placed in a refugee camp in Hatay, a province bordering Syria, and join the over 33,000 refugees who have fled the country after months of unrest that began in March of 2011.
Turkey Calls For NATO Meeting After Syria Shoots Down Turkish Warplane
Last Friday, Syria shot down a Turkish aircraft off the Mediterranean coast that, Syria said, had flown in its airspace. Turkey, which says that the plane had briefly strayed into Syrian airspace but was shot down in international waters, has requested a Nato meeting on Tuesday to discuss the incident.
A spokesman for Syria’s foreign minister, Jihad Makdissi, offered justification for the shooting on Monday, saying that “We had to react immediately. Even if the plane was Syrian we would have shot it down.” In reference to tomorrow’s NATO meeting, Makdissi said that “if the goal of that meeting is aggression, we say that Syrian airspace, territory and waters are sacred.”
The European Union has responded by affirming its condemnation of the violence in Syria and calling for even harsher sanctions that will target “banking, military and state media entities,” said Foreign Secretary William Hague of Britain. European foreign ministers also condemned Syria’s shooting down the Turkish plane as “unacceptable,” praised Turkey for its “measured and responsible initial reaction” and demanded that Syria “allow full access for an immediate investigation.”
Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said that he had also discussed the matter with officials from Syria’s allies, Russia and China, and that they had praised Turkey’s “calm approach.” On Sunday, via a Twitter message on his official account, Davutoglu said that Turkey, a NATO member, would invoke Article 4 of the NATO treaty, which provides for “consultations by the allies when one of them is attacked or threatened.” As the New York Times observes, he “did not cite the much stronger Article 5, in which an attack on one member is considered an attack on all NATO countries and obliges a concerted response.”
Just today on Monday, Turkey says that Syria shot at a second one of its planes. The second plane, a CASA search and rescue plane, was part of a rescue operation for the F-4 Phantom jet that was shot down, and was not itself brought down. According to the BBC, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc did not specify when the second plane was shot at; Syrians had stopped firing at it after a warning from Turkey. He also said that, in the next few days, Turkey would consider cutting off electricity exports to Syria, something it had not yet done for “humanitarian reasons” and that Turkey has “no intention of going to war with anyone.”
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