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Pilot who defected Syria on MiG-21 fighter jet granted asylum in Jordan

Published time: June 21, 2012 14:04
Edited time: June 21, 2012 19:32
MiG-21 (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Perventsev)

MiG-21 (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Perventsev)

Jordan has granted asylum to a Syrian pilot who defected from his country on a fighter jet.

Earlier on Thursday a Russian-made MiG-21 landed at the King Hussein Air Base in Mafraq, in northern Jordan near the Syrian border.

"The council of ministers has decided to grant the pilot political asylum, on his request," Jordan's information minister told Agence France Presse. Another official told the Associated Press that the asylum had been given on "humanitarian grounds."

The Syrian Defense Ministry has called the defected pilot a "traitor," reports Reuters. Official Damascus is in contact with Amman to retrieve the plane.

A spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, Ahmad Kassem, said the pilot had escaped to Jordan and was seeking political asylum.

The pilot was named by opposition activists as Colonel Hassan Merhi al-Hamadi. He is believed to be the first Syrian air force pilot to defect during the 16-month uprising in the country.

Syrian state-run TV reported earlier that authorities had lost contact with a MiG-21 on a training mission and the plane and the pilot will be soon returning home.

The Associated Press reported the pilot removed his air force insignia after landing in Jordan.

The defection and the subsequent granting of asylum is likely to increase tensions between Syria and Jordan. Damascus has repeatedly accused Amman of smuggling arms into Syria to support rebel groups and Jordan`s King Abdullah has publicly questioned Syrian President Assad's legitimacy as a leader.

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