Syria fighter pilot defects in new blow to AssadAgence France-Presse . Damascus
A Syrian pilot sought political asylum after landing his MiG fighter jet in neighbouring Jordan on Thursday, in the first such defection of a revolt a watchdog says has killed more than 15,000 people.
‘The pilot asked for political asylum in Jordan,’ Information Minister Samih Maayatah said, after a government official said the MiG-21 had made an emergency landing at a base in Mafraq in northern Jordan, near Syria.
Syria’s state television said the warplane, flown by Colonel Hassan Merei al-Hamade, was flying near the border when contact was lost around 0734 GMT, and Jordan said it landed across the frontier minutes later.
Tens of thousands of soldiers have defected from Syria’s armed forces since a revolt erupted in March last year, thousands of them joining the rebel Free Syrian Army, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Diplomats stepped up efforts to stem the bloodshed, with Arab states demanding that Russia stop supplying arms to Syria and the United States and Britain reportedly working on a power transition plan.
‘Any assistance to violence must be ceased because when you supply military equipment, you help kill people. This must stop,’ Arab League deputy chief Ahmed Ben Hilli told Interfax news agency.
Ben Hilli also called for the mandate of United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to be revamped, and for Iran’s inclusion in talks on ending the conflict.
‘To make the Annan plan work, we need to find a new mechanism and the mandate of the special envoy must be reassessed, so we can be sure that all the sides are observing the plan,’ he said without elaborating.
His remarks came as British newspaper The Guardian reported that Washington and London were working on an initiative for regime change in Damascus based on Annan’s UN-backed plan that calls for a ‘Syrian-led political transition.’
But Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said any peace plan for Syria that calls on President Bashar al-Assad to leave power and go into exile would not work because he would not quit.
‘A scheme according to which President Assad should leave somewhere before something happens in terms of a cessation of violence and a political process, this scheme simply does not work from the very start,’ Lavrov said.
‘It is infeasible because he will not leave.’
Lavrov, whose country remains in close contact with Assad’s government, indicated that the Syrian leader was not ready to negotiate his removal from power because he still enjoyed popular support.
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