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Syrian Air Force Pilot Flies Plane, Defects to Jordan

In what is believed to be the first defection of a Syrian pilot with his plane, a high-ranking Air Force officer has flown to Jordan.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 6/21/2012, 3:08 PM

Smoke rises from Baba Amr, Homs
Smoke rises from Baba Amr, Homs
Reuters

In what is believed to be the first defection of a Syrian pilot with his plane during the current unrest, a high-ranking Air Force officer has flown to Jordan.

The fighter pilot handed himself over to authorities, together with the aircraft, upon reaching the King Hussein Air Base in Mafraq, near the Syrian border.

According to Jordanian Information Minister Samih al-Ma'aytah, the pilot landed the Russian-made MiG 21 fighter jet at the military base, located in northern Jordan.

He is currently being debriefed.

According to the Syrian state news agency SANA, Air Force pilot Col. Hassan Mirel al-Hamadeh was flying near the southern border with Jordan when contact was lost.

The Free Syrian Army claimed in a statement to the Associated Press that its group had encouraged the pilot to defect, according to spokesman Ahmad Kassem.

Meanwhile, Red Cross teams are being stymied in their effort to evacuate scores of civilians from the war-torn central Syrian city of Homs, much of which lies now in ruins.

The effort is being held up by shelling of residential areas by President Bashar al-Assad's troops. BBC correspondents are reporting that “it may take hours or days before the operation can be resumed.”