Syria’s Aleppo Airport resumes flights for first time in years
A Syrian commercial flight has landed at Aleppo airport from Damascus, marking the resumption of internal flights between Syria’s two largest cities for the first time since 2012.
The flight carrying Syrian officials and journalists was a symbolic message from President Bashar Assad’s government, days after its forces consolidated control over the north-western province of Aleppo and seized the last segments of the strategic M5 motorway linking Aleppo to Damascus.
The motorway between Syria’s two biggest cities is being repaired and is scheduled to reopen in the coming days, for the first time in eight years.
Backed by heavy Russian air strikes, government forces have been on the offensive for weeks to recapture the Aleppo countryside and parts of neighbouring Idlib province in north-western Syria, the last rebel-held areas in the country.
The advances have sent hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians fleeing towards the border with Turkey in one of the biggest single displacements of the war, now in its eighth year.
Escaping the bombs, many of them left with their belongings piled up on vehicles and are now staying in tents, in open fields and under trees in freezing temperatures near the Turkish border.
The UN has put the number of those displaced since 1st December at more than 900,000 civilians – more than half of them women and children.
The military campaign has also killed hundreds of civilians and disrupted aid distribution, with the bitter winter compounding the suffering.
The Syrian Air plane landed at Aleppo airport after a 40-minute flight from Damascus and was received on the ground by a military band.
Syrian warplanes flew low overhead in a show of force and celebration.
Earlier in the day, Syrian tourism minister Bishr al-Yazigi and transport minister Ali Hammoud opened the airport for business.
Mr Hammoud said the opening of the airport is a “great joy” for Syrians and a “dream” for the ministry.
The airport has been closed since 2012 due to fighting, after Aleppo fell into rebel hands.
Backed by Russia and Iran, the Syrian army drove the rebels from Aleppo in December 2016, after a crushing years-long siege and bombardment campaign.
The airport opened briefly in 2017 to much fanfare but was closed again due to security concerns.
The government’s offensive in Idlib has strained ties between Ankara and Moscow, which support opposing sides of the Syria war but for the past few years have been closely co-ordinating their moves in Idlib province.
A truce reached between the two countries collapsed in late 2019, leading to the current Russian-backed offensive.
Turkey arms and trains the Syrian opposition and has sent thousands of troops and military reinforcements to Idlib in recent weeks in an effort to stem the Syrian government’s advances.
That has led to rare clashes between Turkish and Syrian troops, with fatalities on both sides.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that time was running out for Syrian government forces to retreat from Syria’s north-western Idlib province and warned of an “imminent” Turkish intervention to force the retreat.
Mr Erdogan spoke a day after a top Turkish official said talks between a Russian and Turkish delegation meant to reduce tensions in Idlib did not yield a “satisfactory result” for Ankara.
The official said, however, that the sides agreed to continue talks.
Turkey is pressing Russia to force the Syrian government to retreat to positions they held before the advance in Idlib and Aleppo.
“We are delivering our final warnings. We have not reached the desired results as yet,” Mr Erdogan said, addressing legislators from his ruling party in parliament.
“The operation in Idlib is a matter of time. We could enter (Idlib) suddenly one night.”
Picture: A picture provided by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on 18th February 2020 shows a general view of the main entrance of Aleppo International Airport. (Ahmad Salameh/SANA/dpa).
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