BREAKING: Senior Syrian Officers Defect

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This was just reported on Al Jazeera minutes ago, No details yet, although I did find this posted on Foreign Policy five hours ago:

High-level Syrian military officers prepare to defect
Posted By Jennifer Parker Friday, June 22, 2012 - 9:33 AM

The Daily Telegraph reports that senior military officers from Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime are preparing to join the opposition. U.S. officials told the newspaper that these figures have started to communicate with opposition forces and Western governments as they make contingency plans for the fall of the regime. The military officers have also started to move their money into Lebanese and Chinese banks. A senior opposition activist said "I know for sure there are some high-ranking officers who are waiting for the right chance to defect. We have names of people in the presidential palace." This report comes a day after a Syrian pilot, flying a MiG-21 fighter jet, defected to Jordan where he was granted asylum on ‘humanitarian grounds.' The pilot, Col. Hassan Merei al-Hamade, had been ordered to bomb Dera'a before he flew into Jordan's King Hussein air base. At least three other pilots flying MiG-21s on that same mission also considered defecting, according to the Telegraph.

If the Al Jazeera report is correct, this has just happened.

Also Al Jazeera has been running segments of an interview with the Syria pilot that defected yesterday. Look for that here if and when AJE makes it available on YouTube. Also come back here for more on this fast developing story.

After 16 months of heroic struggle on the part of the Syrian people, it looks like the wheels are finally coming off the cart!

Interview with Syrian pilot starts 0:40 secs in

The Telegraph posted this before the defection [9:00PM BST 21 Jun 2012]:

Leading Syrians prepare to defect
By Ruth Sherlock, Beirut, Suha Maayeh in Amman and Peter Foster in Washington

Members of Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle are secretly making plans to defect to the opposition should the Syrian regime become critically threatened by the rebellion, US officials have told The Daily Telegraph.

Senior military figures are understood to be laying down “exit strategies” and establishing lines of communication with the rebels to discuss how they would be received if they deserted.

The Times of Israel is reporting at this hour [June 22, 2012, 1:54 pm pst]:

BEIRUT (AP) — A Syrian activist group says four senior army officers have defected and joined the opposition.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights provided a video Friday purporting to show two brigadier generals and two colonels. They declared they were defecting.

And with these defections, more of the gory details of the Assad regimes crimes will come out, as with this June 3 report in Al Arabiya News:

Syrian air force officer defects, tells horrors of Houla massacre

A senior Syrian military officer decided to defect and join opposition forces after witnessing hundreds of pro-regime militiamen massacring more than 100 civilians in the town of Houla one week ago, a newspaper reported on Saturday.
However, the witness account of Major Jihad Raslan to the UK-based Observer online newspaper, defied the Syrian government’s propaganda and “made-up” scenarios.

Raslan’s account is considered to be the most important of the testimonies to have emerged since the massacre.

Raslan, who served until last Saturday in the Syrian Air Force in the strategic port city of Tartous, said he had been in Houla on leave when the town was shelled just after 1 p.m. last Friday. It was then invaded by a civilian and gang-like militia, known as the Shabiha, he said.

Raslan said he was in his house, around 300 meters from the site of the first massacre in the village of Taldous, when several hundred men, whom he knew to be Shabiha members, rode into town in cars and army trucks and on motorbikes.

“A lot of them were bald and many had beards,” he told The Observer. “Many wore white sports shoes and army pants. They were shouting: ‘Shabiha forever, for your eyes, Assad.’ It was very obvious who they were.

“We used to be told that armed groups killed people and the Free Syria Army burned down houses,” he said. “They lied to us. Now I saw what they did with my own eyes.”

And I wasn't going to do a BREAKING NEWS story today!

Turkish warplane shot down

The BREAKING story that I didn't cover this morning was the one I awoke to, namely that a Turkish F-4 warplane had been shot down by Syria. At the time I had only the Russia Today report and it was sketchy. The Turks were only saying that one of their planes had gone off radar and they were investigating, so I did the diary on US drones instead.

Since then there have been questions raised as to just what this Turkish plane would have been doing over Syria in the first place, if indeed, that were the case. The F-4 Phantom is an aging Vietnam War era fighter-bomber used by the Turks only for surveillance and training any more, if that gives you any clue.

Now at this hour, 3:30pm pst, according to Al Jazeera, Turkey is saying that yes, Syria shot down one of our planes and that Turkey "will determinedly take necessary steps" in response. Just what those steps might be hasn't been said yet but this might be a good time to remember that Turkey is a NATO member and if they conclude that they have been wronged, Turkey would be within its rights to call upon the alliance for backup.

Now the conspiracy theorist in me is wondering if the Turks didn't just dangle an old F-4 out there as bait and Assad just walked into a trap. Stay tuned for further details.

6:13pm pst More on the Turkish jet shoot down: According to several news sources, Syria is saying they didn't even know the plane was Turkish at the time they shot it down. This has certain implications. It is a scary thought that any country would shoot down an air plane just because it is an UFO.

Now we all know the situation along the Syria-Turkish border is a special case, for while the two countries aren't at war yet, something that is shades of it exists. Still, Turkey may well feel that the Syrian response quite excessive if the Turkish warplane hadn't used any weapons because if the two countries start shooting down each others planes if they stray across the line, a war is probably not that far off.

But if Syria is telling the truth and has in fact issued orders that any unidentified war plane is to be shoot down, that is a much more extreme policy. That could lead to the shooting down of a Syrian jet, and maybe that is the point. I think it quite possible that Assad has issued such orders and less out of a fear of imminent aerial attack from NATO and more in fear that other Syrian pilots will follow the lead of Colonel Hassan Merei al-Hamade and skedaddle.

Here are my related diaries:
UPDATED: Russia reported to be preparing to evacuate from Syria
BREAKING: Syria fighter pilot defects
BREAKING: Britain stops Russian ship carrying attack helicopters for Syria
BREAKING: Russian troops headed to Syria
Qaddafi forces Strike Back in Libya
BREAKING: UN suspends mission in Syria
Libya & Syria - two videos - no comment
BREAKING: Russia denies supplying Syria with NEW attack helicopters
Syrian people rise up against the massacre
Another "Houla style" massacre in Syria
Fake Houla Massacre Photo: Was the BBC set up?
Idlib, Syria protest today on anniversary of Kent State killings
BREAKING: Massive protests in Syria following Friday pray
Syria is bleeding
Syria: Ceasefire faltering as mass protests breakout