Syria calls air force defector ‘traitor’, demands Jordan return fighter jet

Statement released just hours after a Syrian fighter jet makes emergency landing at a northern Jordanian airbase.


The Syrian Defense Ministry said on Thursday that a military pilot who defected to Jordan on Thursday with his MiG-21 fighter jet was a “traitor” and that it was in contact with Jordanian authorities to retrieve the aircraft.

“The pilot is considered a deserter from service and a traitor to his country and his military honor. Contacts are underway with the Jordanian side to make arrangements to return the plane,” a statement by the ministry said.

The statement was released just hours after a Syrian fighter jet made an emergency landing at a northern Jordanian airbase.

A Jordanian official said the Russian-made MiG-21 landed at the King Hussein Air Base in Mafraq, a north Jordanian town near the Syrian border.

Meanwhile, the head of the Arab League said on Thursday he expected a meeting of the five big powers in Geneva later this month to produce “practical mechanisms”, not words, to resolve the conflict in Syria.

Describing the situation in Syria as a tragedy, Nabil Elaraby said he was hopeful that the June 30 conference would result in action to deal with the crisis.

“It will include the big five states which have never met together on this issue before. This is very important, because this is the key,” Elaraby said speaking to reporters at the League’s headquarters in Cairo.

“The second point is that the preparations that are under way now are producing practical mechanisms,” he said. He declined to give any further details.
International efforts to halt the violence are deadlocked because Russia and China, which hold veto power in the UN Security Council, have blocked tougher measures against Assad, their strategic regional ally.

They say the solution must come through political dialogue, an approach that most of the Syrian opposition rejects. An uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule in Syria that erupted 15 months ago has turned into an armed conflict between his security forces and armed rebels.

The League’s deputy secretary general Ahmed Ben Helli urged Russia on Thursday to halt arms sales to Syria and said that UN sanctions could be needed to force Assad and the rebels to implement a failing peace plan. Helli was heading an Arab League delegation to Moscow to hold talks about Syria.

The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have been killed by government forces during the conflict, while Syria says at least 2,600 members of the military and security forces have been killed by what it calls foreign-backed “Islamist terrorists”.

But a peace plan proposed by international envoy and Nobel Peace laureate Kofi Annan has all but collapsed and the West is unwilling to intervene militarily, as it did in Libya last year to seal the fate of Muammar Gadhafi.

Elaraby met with the 16 representatives of the Syrian opposition earlier on Thursday and said there was agreement on a broader meeting of the opposition on July 2 or 3, but that the date may be pushed back. “They all spoke of their vision and hope for the future,” he said.

The Syrian opposition has been weakened by power struggles pitting Islamists against secular politicians and exiled leaders against activists at home. Elaraby said there had been progress towards “harmony.”

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