June 21, 2012
The Syrian Defense Ministry said June 21 that a military pilot who defected to Jordan on Thursday with his MiG-21 fighter jet was a “traitor” and that it was in contact with Jordanian authorities to retrieve the aircraft.
“The pilot is considered a deserter from service and a traitor to his country and his military honor. Contacts are underway with the Jordanian side to make arrangements to return the plane,” a statement by the ministry said.
The air force pilot flew his fighter over the border to Jordan and was granted political asylum, the first defection with a military aircraft since the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
The pilot landed at the King Hussein military air base 80 km (50 miles) northeast of Amman and immediately asked for sanctuary, Jordanian officials told Reuters.
“The cabinet has decided to grant the Syrian pilot political asylum upon his request,” Jordan’s Minister of State for Information Samih al-Maaytah told Reuters.
Syria’s defense ministry called the pilot a “traitor to his country and his military honor”.
In a statement it said it would punish the man, named as Col. Hassan Hamada, under military law. Syria was in contact with Jordanian authorities to retrieve the aircraft, it added.
The defection will boost the morale of the rebel movement fighting Assad at a time when government forces are intensifying efforts to crush the uprising and international peace efforts are stalled.
Thousands of soldiers have deserted government ranks in the 15 months since the revolt broke out and they now form the backbone of the rebel army. But unlike last year’s uprisings in Libya and Yemen, no members of Assad’s inner circle have broken with him.