Syrian Military Officers Defect to Turkey

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Dozens of Syrian army officers and their families defected to Turkey Monday night.

Eighty-five officers, including a general, a colonel, four majors, seven captains and a lieutenant fled the ongoing violence in Syria, Today's Zalman reported on Tuesday.

In the largest single defection since the 16-month uprising began, nearly 300 Syrians relocated to one of the refugee camps set up in Turkey. An estimated 35,000 Syrians have taken up temporary there.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he was sorry his forces shot down a Turkish plane last week, though he "might have been happy" had it been Israeli.

"We learned that it belonged to Turkey after shooting it down," Assad said. "The plane was using a corridor that Israeli planes have used three times before. Soldiers shot it down because we did not see it on our radar and because information was not given," he said.

"Of course I might have been happy if this had been an Israeli plane," he added.

Assad said Syria "would not allow [tensions with Turkey] to turn into open combat between the two countries, which would harm them both."

On June 21, a Syrian air force pilot defected to Jordan, landing his MiG-21 at the King Hussein Airbase, 50 miles northeast of Amman. Col. Hassan Hamada asked the Hashemite Kingdom for political asylum.

According to opposition sources, more than 14,000 people have been killed since Assad's crackdown on anti-government protests began in March 2011.

Russia and Iran are arming Assad's troops, while the U.N. claims Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been helping arm opposition forces.

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