Thursday 22 February 2018

First Syrian fighter jet pilot to defect given asylum in Jordan

Donald Macintyre

A SYRIAN air force colonel was granted political asylum yesterday after flying his MiG-21 fighter jet to Jordan in the first defection of its kind since the uprising in his country began over 15 months ago.

The pilot, named as Colonel Hassan Hamada by the Syrian defence ministry, which denounced him as a "traitor to his country and to his military honour", landed the aircraft at the King Hussein military base 50 miles north-east of Amman.

Jordanian officials said he had immediately asked for sanctuary.

The colonel's dramatic cross-border flight came on a day when Syrian anti-regime activists said 125 people had been killed across the country, at least 18 of them during a relentless shelling of Homs by government forces. An International Red Cross team trying to reach Homs's old city were forced to turn back because of shooting.

Thousands of soldiers have defected during the uprising, forming the backbone of the rebel Free Syria Army. The most prominent to do so was Colonel Riad al-Assad last July.

Reuters quoted anti-regime activists as saying that Colonel Hamada was a member of Syria's Sunni Muslim majority, that he came from the northern Idlib province and had managed to smuggle his family to Turkey before his defection.

While the defection is undoubtedly a boost to the morale of anti-regime rebels, it is also likely to cause some nervousness in Amman by further increasing Jordan-Syria tensions.

The Syrian Defence Ministry made it clear yesterday that it was in contact with Amman to seek the return of its aircraft. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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