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Syrian army attacks rebels

Turkey said it had scrambled warplanes after Syrian helicopters flew near its border.

A small fire smolders (L) at the site of an attack on the pro-government Al-Ikhbariya satellite television channel's offices outside Damascus, which killed three staff on June 27, 2012. Picture: AFP

BEIRUT - The Syrian army pressed its offensive against rebels on Tuesday, bombarding the city of Douma near Damascus, and Turkey said it had scrambled warplanes after Syrian helicopters flew near its border.

Turkey's armed forces command said the fighters took off on Monday when Syrian transport helicopters were spotted flying near the frontier, without entering Turkish air space. It was the third day in a row that Turkey had scrambled its F-16s.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told a Turkish daily he wished his forces had not shot down a Turkish jet last month and that he would not allow tensions with Turkey to lead to war.

"We learned it belonged to Turkey after shooting it down. I say 100 percent 'if only we had not shot it down'," Turkey's Cumhuriyet daily quoted Assad as saying.

A Syrian general and 84 soldiers were the latest to defect and flee to Turkey on Monday. But army and government defections have so far failed to shake Assad's 12-year grip on power.

Assad told Cumhuriyet he was not bent on staying in office come what may but gave no hint he was ready to quit.

"If my staying or going saved my people and country, why would I hold on? I wouldn't even stay one day," he said.

"If the opposite is true, that is, if the people don't want me, then there are in any case elections. If the people wanted, they would send me away," Assad was quoted as saying.

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