Defections and downed Turkish jet worsen Syria crisis

The New York Times reports: Syria’s isolation deepened on Monday, hit by a rash of high-ranking military defectors who sought refuge in Turkey, new European Union sanctions and plans for an emergency NATO meeting over its shooting down of a Turkish warplane.

Seeking to publicly justify the shooting of the plane off the Mediterranean coast last Friday and to profess no ill will toward Turkey despite rising tensions between the neighbors, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman told reporters in Damascus that the plane had violated Syria’s territory.

“We had to react immediately,” said the spokesman, Jihad Makdissi. “Even if the plane was Syrian we would have shot it down.” Turkey says the airplane was over international waters when it was shot down after straying briefly into Syrian airspace.

Mr. Makdissi’s comments came a day before emergency talks at NATO headquarters in Brussels over the episode, which has heightened regional tensions springing from the 16-month crackdown on the antigovernment uprising in Syria. Referring to the NATO gathering, Mr. Makdissi said that “if the goal of that meeting is aggression, we say that Syrian airspace, territory and waters are sacred.”

The warning came as Turkish officials on Monday reported a further group defection by high-ranking Syrian military officers, adding to the strains between the two countries.

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