ANKARA, Turkey Turkey's state-run agency says a group of Syrian soldiers, including two generals and 11 colonels, have fled to Turkey with their families.
This, as Syrian President Bashar Assad insisted on Russian TV Friday at there's no civil war in his country.
Anadolu Agency said Friday the fleeing officers were among a group of 71 people who arrived in the Turkish border province of Hatay seeking refuge. They were taken to a camp that shelters military defectors, including dozens of other generals.
Reuters puts the number of officers fleeing Friday at 26 in all, and calls it "the biggest mass desertion of senior soldiers from (President Bashar Assad's) forces in months."
Meanwhile, a Turkish official said Friday that more than 5,000 Syrian refugees crossed into Turkey overnight to escape violence.
An official at the government's crisis management center said the Syrians crossed into the Turkish border provinces of Mardin, Sanliurfa and Hatay, raising the number of refugees in the country to close to 120,000. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.
Clashes between Syrian regime forces and rebels continued for a second day around the town of Ras al-Ayn, in al-Hasaka province in northeastern Syria, forcing Turkish authorities to keep schools in the neighboring Turkish town of Ceylanpinar closed.
Turkish officials said Thursday the rebels had taken control of the border crossing in Ras al-Ayn but clashes continued around a security building.
The United Nations is warning that, if the Syrian conflict continues at its deadly pace, the number of people inside the country needing humanitarian aid could rise from 2.5 million now to 4 million by early next year.
John Ging, operations director for the U.N. humanitarian office, said a failure to end the fighting would also likely lead to an increase in the number of Syrians fleeing to neighboring countries from almost 400,000 currently to around 700,000 in early 2013.
Ging spoke in an interview ahead of Friday's fifth Syria Humanitarian Forum in Geneva, where 350-400 representatives of governments, international organizations and aid groups will hear reports on the sharply deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria.
"It's just getting a lot worse very rapidly for the ordinary people," Ging said.
Assad is insisting there's no civil war in his country -- rather, a new kind of battle he calls "terrorism through proxies."
Assad acknowledged his troops are fighting a "tough war and a difficult war," adding that when foreign countries stop sending arms to rebels, "I can tell (you) that in weeks, we can finish everything."
In an interview with the English-language Russia Today TV, Assad said he does not regret any decision he made since March 2011, when the uprising against his government began.
Assad spoke in English in the interview. It was broadcast in full on Friday.
Sophie Shevarnadze, the journalist who conducted the 26-minute interview, said during the broadcast that she met Assad in a "newly renovated" presidential palace in Damascus.