Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Sunni Syrian pilot was harassed by Alawite officers prior to defection – Source | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Amman, Asharq Al-Awsat – Well informed Jordanian sources have confirmed that the family of defected Syrian pilot Colonel Hassan Mirei al-Hamadeh has arrived safely in Jordan. Colonel al-Hamadeh defected from the Syrian Air Force, along with his Russian-made MiG-21, on Thursday, the first defection with a military aircraft since the start of the uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. There are conflicting reports about how the family managed to arrive in Jordan to be reunited with al-Hamadeh, with some sources claiming that the family arrived at Jordan’s Queen Alia International Airport via Turkey.

The Jordanian authorities have refused to comment on how the al-Hamadeh extended family arrived in Amman. A senior Jordanian government source, speaking to Jordan’s Al-Ghad newspaper, stated that the defected Colonel’s family entered the country days ago along with thousands of other Syrians who have sought refuge in the country.

The Jordanian official stressed that “the entry of the Syrian pilot’s family was not pre-arranged, and it took place normally, without the prior knowledge of any official party.”

Syria’s Defense Ministry described Colonel al-Hamadeh as a “traitor to his country and his military honor” adding that it intended to punish the Syrian defector under military law. The Syrian Defense Ministry has called on Amman to return the MiG-21 fighter jet to Syria.

For its part, the Jordanian cabinet granted the Syrian pilot political asylum “upon his request”.

As for the fate of the MiG-21, which is currently at the King Hussein Air Base in al-Mafraq, the Jordanian authorities have stressed that the return of this warplane to Syria “depends on international laws and treaties.”

For his part, a Jordanian source informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Jordanian Air Force technicians and experts have examined the MiG-21, which is one of the older generations of the fighter jet. He revealed that Jordanian technicians have examined the amendments made to this jet, particularly regarding its radar system, electronic countermeasure system, expanded fuel tanks, as well as its munitions.

The source stressed that all this information will benefit the Jordanian armed forces, particularly as the military relations between Jordan and Syria have been severed since the 1980s.

He added that this is not the first time that a Syrian pilot has defected to Jordan, revealing that two Syrian MiG-17 pilots defected to Jordan during the era of President Hafez al-Assad, whilst Amman granted these two pilots political asylum and returned the two warplanes to Syria, following a decree by King Hussein Bin Talal.

There have been reports that Colonel al-Hamadeh – a Sunni –who was based at the Khalkhala Air Base in southern Syria, was subject to harassment– along with 6 other Sunni pilots– by some Alawite Air Force officers, which ultimately led to his defection. It is extremely difficult for Syrian pilots to defect from the regime as they are subject to strict monitoring; however Colonel al-Hamadeh took the opportunity to disengage from his squadron during a training mission and enter Jordanian airspace, where he has sought asylum.

More than 125,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Jordan since the outbreak of the revolution against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad last year.