A Syrian air force pilot flew his MiG-21 fighter plane over the border to Jordan and was granted political asylum on Thursday, the first defection with a military aircraft since the start of the uprising against President Bashar Assad.
The pilot landed at the King Hussein military air base 80 km (50 miles) northeast of Amman and immediately asked for sanctuary, Jordanian officials told Reuters.
"The cabinet has decided to grant the Syrian pilot political asylum upon his request," Jordan’s Minister of State for Information Samih al-Maaytah told Reuters.
Syria’s defense ministry called the pilot a "traitor to his country and his military honour".
In a statement it said it would punish the man, named as Colonel Hassan Hamada, under military law. Syria was in contact with Jordanian authorities to retrieve the aircraft, it added.
The defection will boost the morale of the rebel movement fighting Assad at a time when government forces are intensifying efforts to crush the uprising and international peace efforts are stalled.
Thousands of soldiers have deserted government ranks in the 15 months since the revolt broke out and they now form the backbone of the rebel army. But unlike last year’s uprisings in Libya and Yemen, no members of Assad’s inner circle have broken with him.