UK & World News
Syrian Fighter Pilot 'Defects' To Jordan
A Syrian fighter pilot who flew his MiG-21 to an airfield in Jordan and defected has been granted political asylum by the kingdom, a minister has said.
It is the first such defection in the air force since the uprising against President Bashar al Assad's regime began in Syria 15 months ago.
The pilot landed his Russian-made aircraft at the King Hussein Air Base in Mafraq, a north Jordanian town near the Syrian border.
The Syrian defence ministry called the airman a "traitor" and was in contact with Amman to retrieve the plane.
"The council of ministers has decided to grant the pilot, Colonel Hassan Merei al Hamade, political asylum, on his request," said Jordanian information minister Samih Maaytah.
A security official said the airman will be allowed to stay on "humanitarian grounds", adding the defector would be tortured or killed if he were sent home.
He declined to say what Jordan will do with the jet.
Another official said the pilot had made an emergency landing.
A spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), Ahmad Kassem, said his group had encouraged the pilot to defect and monitored his activity until the jet landed safely in Jordan.
Tens of thousands of soldiers have defected from Syria's armed forces since the revolt against President Assad's rule erupted in March last year, thousands of them joining the FSA, reports say.
Syrian authorities had earlier announced on state TV that they had lost contact with a MiG-21 which was on a training mission.
The report said: "The plane, flown by Colonel Hassan Merei al Hamade, was near the southern border of Syria when contact was lost at around 10.34 am (0834 UK time)."
Officials in Amman say more than 120,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan since an uprising against the regime of Bashar al Assad broke out in February last year.
Some 15,000 people are thought to have died in fighting in Syria during that time.
Meanwhile, a senior Arab League official has called on Russia to stop selling arms to Syria.
The Interfax news agency quoted deputy secretary general Ahmed Ben Helli as saying, in response to a question about Russia: "Any assistance in aiding violence should be stopped.
"When you deliver military equipment you are helping to kill people. That should be stopped."
On Tuesday, a Russian-operated ship carrying attack helicopters bound for Syria was forced to turn back from British waters after its UK insurer withdrew its cover.
Moscow said the ship, which set sail on 11 June, had cargo which included Mi-25 helicopters.
"In order to prevent a possible seizure of the ship, the decision was taken for it to dock in the (Russian Arctic Circle) port of Murmansk where it is expected on Saturday to be re-flagged under the Russian flag," foreign ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, said.
It had sailed under the flag of the Caribbean island of Curacao. The vessel has returned to Murmansk.
In another diplomatic development, Israel's deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon has called for "massive intervention" by the international community in Syria to prevent the conflict there engulfing neighbours Lebanon and Iraq.
Speaking in Paris ahead of talks with French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, Mr Ayalon said: "The longer the wait, the more chaos and victims there will be."
He added: "We need a whole package: massive intervention from the international community on the Bosnian model, Russia should be aboard, clemency for Assad and his family."
:: Aid workers hoping to evacuate trapped civilians and wounded were unable to enter hard-hit areas of the Syrian city of Homs due to an "unclear" security situation and returned to Damascus, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said: "After having attempted to go into the old city of Homs this morning, the team decided to turn back to Homs city due to shooting.
"Later on the team concluded that the security situation was too unclear for us to go in."
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