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.