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Two Syrian Generals Defect To Turkey As Opposition Rejects Dialogue With Assad

UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy for Syria Kofi Annan was expected to visit Damascus on March 10.
Five members of Syria's armed forces, including at least two generals and a colonel, have reportedly defected to Turkey.

Turkish officials said the military men were part of a group of Syrians to have fled the country in the past two days.

The latest defections bring to four the total number of generals to have fled Syria. Syria's deputy oil minister also deserted President Bashar al-Assad's regime earlier this week.

Some 12,000 Syrians have fled to the Turkish side of the border since an uprising against Assad's government began a year ago.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has urged Syria's military not to open fire on its own people.

"We continue to urge the Syrian Army not to turn their weapons against their own people -- defenseless civilians, women, and children," Clinton said at a news conference in Washington with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan.

Clinton was speaking on the eve of talks in Cairo on the Syria crisis between foreign ministers of the Arab League and their Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

Clinton said she would hold new talks on Syria with Lavrov in New York on March 12, and that she had talked to Lavrov "about our hope that Russia will play a constructive role in ending the bloodshed and working toward a political transition in Syria, and I will be following up in meeting with him in New York on Monday."

Russia, one of Syria's last remaining allies together with China, has criticized as "unbalanced" a new U.S.-led initiative to push through a new UN Security Council resolution condemning the repression by Assad's regime.

Syria Allows Relief Assessment

UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos, meanwhile, said on March 9 that Syria had agreed to allow a preliminary assessment of the relief needs in areas hard-hit by the yearold conflict.

Amos, who visited the battered opposition flashpoint city of Homs this week, was speaking in Turkey's capital, Ankara.

"The government have agreed to a limited assessment exercise to be conducted by UN agencies and the Syrian authorities, which would give us some information about what is happening in the country," Amos said.

"We continue to need a more robust engagement that would enable us to have more information about what is happening."

Amos said the mission would be only a "first step," insisting that Damascus must allow aid groups "unhindered access to evacuate the wounded and deliver desperately needed supplies."

Also on March 9, Burhan Ghalioun, the leader of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group, said it would not cooperate with a call by Kofi Annan to enter into dialogue with the government as long as its crackdown on political opponents continued.

Former UN Secretary-General Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, had said a solution lies in a "political settlement" and that further militarization "would make things worse."

Annan is scheduled to visit Syria on March 10.

The UN estimates 7,500 people have been killed since the year-old uprising began. Activists say at least 54 people were killed across Syria on March 9 alone.

With dpa, AP, and AFP reporting