Syria’s Aleppo Airport Restarts Flights as Fighting Continues Nearby
A passenger jet landed in the Syrian city of Aleppo Wednesday from Damascus. It was the first commercial flight between Syria's two largest cities since 2012. Yet near Aleppo, government forces reportedly carried out airstrikes on rebel-controlled towns and villages.
The airplane carried Syrian officials and reporters. It arrived after forces loyal to President Bashar Assad strengthened control over the northwestern province of Aleppo. They also seized the last parts of a major road linking Aleppo with Damascus. The road is set to reopen soon for the first time in eight years.
For weeks, government forces have been fighting to recapture the Aleppo countryside and parts of neighboring Idlib province in northwestern Syria. They are the last rebel-held areas in Syria. Russian forces are carrying out airstrikes in support of the government offensive.
The fighting has caused problems between Turkey and Russia, whose governments support opposing sides in the Syrian conflict.
Earlier Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave what he called a "final warning" for Assad's forces to pull back from Idlib. If not, the Turkish military will intervene, he said.
Largest displacement of civilians
The Syrian offensive has forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee to the border with Turkey in what is the single largest human displacement of the nine-year war. The United Nations estimates that more than 900,000 civilians have been displaced since December of last year. Most are women and children. They are living in tents in fields and under trees in wintry conditions.
American satellite pictures show the size of the displacement. They show a large number of refugee tents and shelters near Kafaldin and Deir Hassan.
The military campaign has killed hundreds of people and caused problems for aid shipments. The cold makes the suffering worse.
The commercial Syrian Air jet landed in Aleppo after a 40-minute flight from Damascus. A military band greeted the plane as it arrived.
Syrian warplanes flew in the sky in a show of force and celebration. Syrian Tourism Minister Rami Radwan Martini and Transport Minister Ali Hammoud had earlier opened the airport for business.
Hammoud called the opening of the airport a "great joy" for Syrians and a "dream" for the ministry. It has been closed since 2012 after rebel fighters gained control of Aleppo.
Backed by Russia and Iran, the Syrian army pushed the rebels out of the city in December 2016. The airport opened for a short time in 2017, but closed again because of security concerns.
Airstrikes and shelling were reported Wednesday on several rebel-held positions. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported more than 120 airstrikes on Tuesday alone.
The Syrian government offensive has caused problems between Turkey and Russia, which support opposing sides in the war. However, the two sides have worked together in recent years in Idlib province. The two had a truce that collapsed in late 2019, leading to the Russian military support for the Syrian government offensive.
Turkey arms and trains the Syrian opposition. It has sent thousands of troops into Idlib to try to slow the progress of Syrian forces. That has led to clashes between Syrian and Turkish troops.
Erdogan warned Wednesday that time was running out for Syrian government forces to pull back from Idlib.
I'm Susan Shand.