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20 Syrian soldiers, including a general, defect to Turkey

02 January, 2013

ANKARA: A group of some 20 Syrian soldiers including a general defected from the army on Tuesday and fled to Turkey, joining hundreds of other ex-troops from Syria's military, a Turkish diplomat told AFP.

"The soldiers who fled to Turkey include a general, three colonels and several other officers," the source said. Some 40 people, including defectors and family members, crossed the border into the southern Turkish province of Hatay. They were taken to the Apaydin refugee camp, which holds all of Syria's defected soldiers, Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

Since the start of the civil war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and rebel forces, dozens of senior army officers including some 40 generals have deserted the army.Turkey, is housing a total of some 150,000 Syrian refugees at camps near the border.

In a separate incident, Syrians woke up to air strikes near Damascus on New Year's Day and the closure of Aleppo airport due to rebel attacks. The violence came a day after activists found dozens of mutilated bodies. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government raids came amid fierce clashes along the airport road, giving a toll of 13 people killed in the Damascus region, among 43 nationwide.

Analysts say the army is seeking to take total control of Damascus and environs to create conditions necessary for future dialogue, which Prime Minister Wael al-Halaqi said the government is open to.

The Observatory said 30 bodies were found in Barzeh district, while the Syrian Revolution General Commission said 50 bodies were found with their heads "cut and disfigured to the point that it was no longer possible to identify" them. A video posted by activists showed a separate discovery of three young boys found on Monday in Jubar with their throats slit. The authenticity of the footage could not be verified.

Meanwhile, on New Year's Eve, dozens of women and men dressed in red Santa hats and holding sparklers took to the streets of the middle class district of Salhiyeh to call for the fall of the regime.

UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Sunday, he had crafted a ceasefire plan based on an agreement world powers reached in Geneva in June. The opposition has already rejected the Geneva accord, insisting that Assad must go before any dialogue can take place.

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