Syria: Defecting Pilot is a 'Traitor'

Damascus wants its MiG-21 back. Jordan says pilot can stay on humanitarian grounds.

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Gil Ronen,

Syrian  defectors join the Free Syrian Army
Syrian defectors join the Free Syrian Army

Syria denounced an air force pilot who defected Thursday as a "traitor" and said it wants Jordan to give back the MiG-21 fighter plane he was flying.

"The pilot is considered a deserter and a traitor to his country, and to his military honor, and he will be punished under military rules," state television quoted the defense ministry as saying. "We have contacted the Jordanian side to get the plane back."

A security source in Jordan said the pilot would be allowed to remain in Jordan "for humanitarian reasons." He explained that the pilot will be tortured or executed if he is sent back into Syria. However, he refused to say what Jordan would do with the pilot.

Jordanian Information Minister Samih al-Ma'aytah said earlier that the pilot landed the Russian-made MiG 21 fighter jet at the King Hussein Air Base in Mafraq, near the Syrian border.

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 had encouraged the pilot to defect.