Conflict & Justice

France urges Syrian soldiers to defect


Abu Ibrahim, a Free Syrian Army rebel, examines a new gun purchased from corrupt regime officials at the Al Muhajereen Wal Ansar rebel base in Jabal al-Zawiya.


Tracey Shelton

France has urged Syrian soldiers to stop following what it calls the "criminal orders" of President Bashar al-Assad's government.

Those who have defected so far "deserve our thanks, and the thanks of the Syrian people," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero, as quoted by Agence France Presse.

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A Syrian fighter pilot, Colonel Hassan Mirei al-Hamadeh, yesterday landed his plane in Jordan and requested asylum, in what is believed to be the first defection by an air force pilot since Syria's uprising began.

Valero paid tribute to him, and called on other members of Syria's security forces to "defect, desert, and no longer obey Damascus's criminal orders."

The Syrian Defense Ministry has described Hamadeh as "a traitor to his country and military honor," according to Syria's state news agency SANA. The ministry said it was in contact with Jordan in an effort to get the air force's MiG-21 aircraft back.

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Meanwhile other Arab states are hoping to encourage mass defections by providing financial assistance to Syrian rebels, the Guardian reported.

According to the newpaper's information, Saudi Arabia plans to pay salaries to the rebel Free Syrian Army, at a rate either equal or superior to the official army's pre-revolution wages. The Guardian said the move had been discussed "between Riyadh and senior officials in the US and Arab world."

While Washington says it is not providing arms to any opposition groups, the New York Times reported yesterday that CIA officers based in Turkey were covertly "steering" weapons to Syrian rebels via US allies.