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Report: 33 Syrian army members defect to Turkey

By the CNN Wire Staff
June 26, 2012 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: At least 80 people were killed Monday, an opposition group says; Syria reports 20 "martyrs"
  • The defections include a Syrian general and at least 4 other officers, two sources say
  • The EU announces a new round of sanctions against Syria
  • U.N. human rights chief calls for referral of the case to the International Criminal Court

(CNN) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military may have more cracks in its armor as dozens more soldiers, including a general and two colonels, have defected across the border, Turkish media reported Monday.

The 33 army defectors entered Turkey and were sent to a camp in southern Hatay province, the Anadolu news agency said, citing authorities.

Malik el Kurdi, the deputy commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, speaking to CNN by telephone from the Apaydin refugee camp, said that within the past week a general and three colonels had arrived, but he had not seen a group of more than 30 new deserters.

The refugee camp houses the proclaimed leadership and other members of the FSA, the opposition force made up of Syrian army defectors.

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"I receive soldiers daily," el Kurdi added. "There are rumors, but I haven't received anyone in that number."

The defections included a Syrian general and at least four other officers, according to a Turkish Foreign Ministry official and a commander in the Free Syrian Army camp in Turkey.

All were from the Syrian city of Homs, the commander said.

Both officials spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity.

More than 33,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey to escape the violence in their country, Anadolu reported.

Speaking in Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland praised the reported defections, which is something the United States has called for, for some time, she said.

"This appears to be an increasing pace of these kinds of military folks voting with feet, voting with their airplanes, voting with their cars, voting with their families against the Assad regime," Nuland told reporters.

The defections took place amid heightened tensions between Syria and Turkey, and the rest of the international community, over how to stop the bloodshed spurred by the Syrian government's crackdown on dissidents.

Syria was in a war of words Monday with Turkey over the shooting down of a Turkish fighter jet by Syria, an incident that threatens to draw in NATO.

Syria rejects Turkey claims on downed jet

Meanwhile, at least 80 people were killed Monday in violence across Syria, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition group. Twenty of those 80 were killed in Daraa, while 17 were killed in Deir Ezzor, the group said.

Since Syria's anti-government uprising started in March last year, more than 15,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed, the observatory said. The United Nations has said that at least 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Syria blames violence on "armed terrorist groups." On state-run news agency SANA, al-Assad's regime said 20 "army and law enforcement martyrs" were buried Monday.

CNN cannot confirm specific reports of violence in Syria because the government has restricted access to the country by international journalists.

Opposition groups say the violence began when a government crackdown on peaceful protesters generated a nationwide uprising, including the armed resistance.

Turkey hardens military position after Syria downs jet

Navi Pillay, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said Monday that despite "efforts to restore calm in Syria, the situation deteriorates relentlessly."

"Both government and opposition forces have been involved in actions which have harmed civilians," Pillay said. "Those responsible must be held accountable, including for attacks against United Nations observers. I reiterate my call for the Security Council to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court. A prompt referral would serve to remind the actors in Syria that they will be held to account for their failure to abide by international human rights and humanitarian law and protect civilians."

The European Union announced a new round of sanctions against al-Assad's regime.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the move "sends an unequivocal message that we will intensify the pressure until the Assad regime ends the killing" and fully implements a six-point plan put forward by Kofi Annan, joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria.

"We have also decided to strengthen the arms embargo" to prevent weapons shipments to Syria, Hague said. "This robust action comes on the back of our rapid coordination with EU partners to prevent a Russian ship providing attack helicopters to those leading the repression in Syria."

A Russian ship turned back last week. Russian officials said it was carrying repaired attack helicopters that the Syrian regime would use for defensive purposes.

"The UK will remain vigilant and continue to do all that we can to prevent the completely unjustified arming of a regime that is carrying out appalling crimes against its own people," Hague said.

Syrian downing of Turkish plane condemned; NATO to meet

More than 130 killed in Syria as regime forms new government

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz, Ivan Watson, and Josh Levs and journalist Gul Tuysuz contributed to this report.

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