About 9,000 refugees, 26 officers flee Syria to Turkey

ANKARA Fri Nov 9, 2012 1:32pm GMT

ANKARA (Reuters) - Around 9,000 Syrian refugees fled into Turkey in the past 24 hours, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday, and Turkish state media said 26 defecting Syrian army officers had also arrived.

More than 120,000 registered Syrian refugees are now sheltering in Turkish camps. Tens of thousands of unregistered Syrians are also living in Turkish border towns and villages.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry official had earlier put the latest influx at 8,000 - a single-day total that is sure to heighten Ankara's concerns about the flood of refugees.

Turkey has long pushed for a foreign-protected safe zone inside Syria but the proposal has gained little international support. Ankara has become increasingly vocal in its frustration at the U.N. Security Council over its failure to take action.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan hit out again on Friday at the 15-nation Security Council.

"It is very strange. There are currently atrocities being committed in Syria and these atrocities are being directed by a state leader. While these atrocities are continuing ... there is a United Nations that is remaining silent towards it," Erdogan said during a trip to Indonesia.

"How far will this go? When will the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council take responsibility? We are obliged to act together to counter this, otherwise we cannot refer to this world body as being democratic," he said.

The latest exodus to Turkey is one of the largest on a single day since the start of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March last year.

UNHCR said 1,000 Syrians had also fled to Lebanon and another 1,000 to Jordan, swelling the overall total who are registered or being assisted in the region to 408,000.

State-run Anatolian news agency said around 5,000 Syrians had crossed into Turkey's Sanliurfa province overnight, fleeing fighting between rebels and Syrian government forces in the town of Ras al-Ain just across the border in Syria.

Syrian rebels and opposition sources said late on Thursday Free Syrian Army fighters had captured Ras al-Ain, an Arab and Kurdish town in the northeastern oil-producing province of Hasaka, but continuing clashes have been reported there.

DEFECTIONS

Anatolian said 26 military officers, including two generals, had defected to Turkey overnight, marking the biggest mass desertion of senior soldiers from 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 the border province of Hatay with their families and other soldiers, making a total of 71 people.

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.

Relations between Ankara and Damascus, once close allies, are now as frosty as at any time since the Syrian revolt began.

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 defense missiles on the border.

Turkey is becoming increasingly concerned about security on its border with Syria and has summoned its NATO allies twice this year over the issue, saying the alliance had a duty to protect its own frontier.

The Turkish chief-of-staff has said his troops would respond "with greater force" if shells continued to land in Turkey.

Last month parliament authorized the deployment of troops beyond Turkey but Ankara is reluctant to take any unilateral military action inside Syria.

(Reporting by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Alistair Lyon)