Jordan grants asylum to defecting Syrian pilot
Amman: Jordan has granted political asylum to a Syrian fighter pilot who flew his MiG-21 to an airfield in that country after defecting from his country, a minister has said.
"The council of ministers has decided to grant the pilot, Colonel Hassan Merei al Hamade, political asylum, on his request," Sky News quoted Jordanian Information Minister Samih Maaytah, as saying.
The pilot landed his Russian-made aircraft at the King Hussein Air Base in Mafraq, a north Jordanian town near the Syrian border. The Syrian Defence Ministry termed the airman a ''traitor'' and was in contact with Amman to retrieve the plane.
According to reports, it is the first such defection in the Air Force since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime began in Syria 15 months ago.
A security official said the airman would be allowed to stay on ''humanitarian grounds'', adding the defector would be tortured, or killed if he were sent home. He, however, declined to say what Jordan would do with the plane.
A spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), Ahmad Kassem, said his group had encouraged the pilot to defect and monitored his activity until the jet landed safely in Jordan.
Syrian authorities had earlier announced on state TV that they had lost contact with a MiG-21 which was on a training mission. The report said: "The plane, flown by Colonel Hassan Merei al Hamade, was near the southern border of Syria when contact was lost at around 10.34 am (0834 UK time)."
Officials in Amman have said that more than 120,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan since an uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad broke out in February last year.