BY BEN HUBBARD

AND ZEINA KARAM

The Associated Press

BEIRUT -- A high-profile international mission to end the Syrian crisis stumbled Friday before it began as the opposition rejected calls by UN envoy Kofi Annan for dialogue with President Bashar Assad as pointless and out of touch after a year of violence.

The dispute exposes the widening gap between opposition leaders who say only military aid can stop Assad's regime, and Western powers who fear more weapons will exacerbate the conflict.

As the prospects for diplomacy faltered, Turkey reported the defections of three high-ranking military officers -- two generals and a colonel -- as well as two sergeants, a significant development because until now most army defectors have been low-level conscripts. A deputy oil minister also deserted Assad's regime this week, making him the highest-ranking civilian official to join the opposition.

Western and Arab powers are backing Annan's two-day trip to Syria, starting Saturday, when he is to meet with Assad. The former UN secretary-general -- now a special UN-Arab League envoy for Syria -- has said he seeks to start a "political process" to end the crisis and warned against further militarization of a conflict that appears headed toward civil war.

"I hope that no one is thinking very seriously of using force in this situation," Annan said Thursday in Cairo. "I believe any further militarization would make the situation worse." He said he would present "realistic" solutions, but did not elaborate.

Opposition leaders and activists rejected Annan's plans Friday, saying they ignore the nature of Assad's authoritarian regime as well as the thousands killed by security forces

Suffolk fentanyl summit … REDC less money this year … What's up on LI Credit: Newsday

Trump trial deliberations ... Rangers Game 5 tonight ... Firework tossed into Elmont 7-Eleven ... Family loves cricket

Suffolk fentanyl summit … REDC less money this year … What's up on LI Credit: Newsday

Trump trial deliberations ... Rangers Game 5 tonight ... Firework tossed into Elmont 7-Eleven ... Family loves cricket

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