Syria vows pilot will be “punished accordingly”
A Syrian pilot has defected to Jordan on Thursday with a Syrian jet fighter, the first instance of a defector escaping by plane since the Syrian uprising against the Assad regime 15 months ago.
The Syrian jet fighter, a MiG-21, flew south across the Syrian border before receiving asylum at a Jordanian air base. The defection came on the same day that violence across Syria surged as the Syrian army under President Bashar al-Assad pushed to recapture areas such as the provinces of Homs and Daraa that have fallen under rebel control.
It is not clear whether the defection was the result of a posting to the Facebook page of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus in which the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, issued a direct appeal to members of the Syrian security forces to abandon the Assad regime just hours before the Syrian jet fighter defected.
“Members of the Syrian military should reconsider their support for a regime that is losing the battle,” Ford wrote. “The officers and soldiers of the Syrian military have a choice to make. Do they want to expose themselves to criminal prosecution . . .? Or do they want to help secure the role of the professional military in a democratic Syria by supporting the Syrian people?”
“As you know, we have long called for members of the Syrian military to refuse to obey orders, to break with the Assad regime,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “And we’d like to see more of this.”
The pilot was identified by Syrian government media as Col. Hassan Mirei al-Hamadeh and was initially reported as missing. After learning of Jordan’s granting of political asylum to the defector, the official Syrian Arab News Agency denounced Hamadeh as “a deserter and a traitor to his country” and asserted that he would be “punished accordingly.”
In contrast, Col. Malik Kurdi, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, called Hamadeh a hero “who shared in the suffering of the Syrian people and expressed his rejection of the tyranny practiced by the regime.”