General Muhammed Ahmed Faris, who participated in a Soviet space mission in 1987, left Syria for Turkey to fight with the Free Syrian Army.
Anadolu, Turkey's state run news agency, made the announcement of the defection yesterday. On the weekend, Faris made it to Allepo, the scene of recent heavy fighting between the Syrian military and rebel forces. At Allepo, Faris spoke to members of the Free Syrian Army.
Faris was quoted in the Vancouver Sun as saying, "We are with you with our lives and blood." The general then left and crossed into Turkey.
Faris graduated as a pilot at a military school in Allepo in 1973. The Times of Israel reports Faris, 61, was a colonel in the Syrian Air Force during the 1980s when he was selected to participate in a joint Soviet-Syrian space mission. In July 1987, he blasted off and spent a little over a week on the Soviet Mir space station. The Daily Telegraph reports he was granted the title of "Hero of the Soviet Union" and was awarded the Order of Lenin.
Faris was the first Syrian, and the second Arab to go into space.
As the Christian Science Monitor reports, Faris is just one in a long line of high profile Syrians who have left the country. Several senior military officers have left and joined the rebels. Last month, Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, a longtime friend of President Assad became the first member of his inner circle to defect. And a member of the Syrian parliament denounced the government's violence and also left the country.
There are approximately 45,000 Syrians staying in camps in Turkey along the 566 mile border with Syria.
The exact whereabouts of Faris is unknown but he is expected to hold a press conference in Istanbul in the coming days.