AMMAN (JWN and agencies)—The pilot of a Syrian MiG-21 fighter jet defected to Jordan while on a training flight Thursday. He immediately asked for political asylum from Jordanian authorities upon landing at the King Hussein Air Base in Mafraq, near the Syrian border.
“The cabinet has decided to grant the Syrian pilot political asylum upon his request,” Jordanian 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 pilot, named as Colonel Hassan Hamada, under military law. Syria was in contact with the Jordanian authorities to retrieve the aircraft, it added.
Syrian state radio earlier had broadcast a news bulletin saying communications were lost with his plane while he was on a training mission near the border with Jordan.
Witnesses to his arrival said Hamada climbed down from the fighter and immediately removed all his Syrian Air Force insignia, saying that he defected.
Thousands of Syrian soldiers have defected so far during the ongoing rebellion, which has lasted for 15 months. United Nations observers have calculated that some 15,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict so far—about 1,000 a month—most of them civilians killed by the armed forces.
The Syrian Air Force has seen a number of defections since 1968, most of them to Iraq. In August 1968, the pilots of nine Syrian MiG-17s and three MiG-21s defected to Iraq after an abortive coup attempt. In June 1976, a Palestinian pilot in the Syrian Air Force defected to Iraq with his MiG-23 Flogger. In July 1976, the pilot of a MiG-21 flew to Iraq.
Perhaps the most notable defection occurred in October 1989, when Syrian pilot Abdel Bassem landed his MiG-23ML in Israel.