BEIRUT — Syria’s isolation deepened Monday as it was hit by a rash of high-ranking military defectors who sought refuge in Turkey, new EU sanctions, and plans for an emergency NATO meeting over its shooting down of a Turkish warplane.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc of Turkey said his government would push NATO to consider the downing of its jet as an attack on the whole military alliance. He said Turkey retained its right to retaliate against what he called a “hostile act.”
Turkey will push NATO to consider the downing of its planes as an armed attack under Article 5 in a key alliance treaty, Arinc said. Article 5 states that an attack against one NATO member shall be considered an attack against all. All members of the North Atlantic Council would have to approve any retaliatory strike.
In a new twist, Arinc also accused the Syrians of shooting at a second Turkish plane — a search-and-rescue aircraft deployed to look for the downed warplane when it was hit Friday off the Mediterranean coast, Turkey’s Anatolian news agency reported.
Arinc did not specify where that incident happened or whether the second plane was hit, but that Turkish officials had contacted the Syrians afterward and that “this assault was immediately halted.”
Turkish officials Monday reported another group defection by high-ranking Syrian military officers, including a brigadier general and a colonel.
The officers and several lower-ranking soldiers, along with their families, crossed into Turkey late Sunday. They were taken to a camp just a few miles inside Turkey in the province of Hatay, which borders Syria, joining some 2,000 defectors and family members.
Thousands of soldiers have defected from the Syrian military since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. Last week, Jordan said it had granted asylum to a Syrian Air Force colonel who defected piloting an MiG warplane. Overall, some 33,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey after the Syrian uprising began.
There was no immediate comment from Syria to the accusation that it had fired upon a second Turkish plane. But earlier Monday, seeking to publicly justify the downing the first jet and to profess no ill will toward Turkey, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman told reporters in Damascus that the warplane 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 has said the warplane was over international waters when it was shot down after straying briefly into Syrian airspace.
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, Makdissi said, “If the goal of that meeting is aggression, we say that Syrian airspace, territory, and waters are sacred.”
In Luxembourg, the European Union on Monday renewed its condemnation of the violence in Syria and tightened its sanctions on the Syrian regime another notch, targeting “banking, military, and state media entities,” said Foreign Secretary William Hague of Britain.
In a statement, the European Union foreign ministers also condemned “the unacceptable shooting down by Syria of a Turkish military plane,” praised Turkey’s measured response, and called on Syria to allow a full investigation.
The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, told state-owned TRT television that the Turkish authorities’ analysis of radar, visual, and communications data had confirmed that their aircraft, a two-seat F-4 Phantom, was struck by Syrian antiaircraft weapons outside of Syrian airspace.
“Our plane was hit in international airspace, 13 nautical miles out of Syria, when Syrian territorial space is 12 miles,” he said. He said the Turkish investigation had left no doubt that the aircraft had briefly strayed over Syria but had been shot down after leaving its territory.
Syria disputed that account Monday, with Makdissi saying the plane was brought down by a surface-to-air weapon with a range of less than 2 miles.