Syria marks relaunch of commercial flights to Aleppo

AFP , Wednesday 19 Feb 2020

Members of the Syrian ministries of information and tourism as well as a group of journalists arrive on February 19, 2020 to Aleppo, on the first flight from the capital Damascus to the northern city's airport since the war forced its closure in 2012. (AFP)

A civilian airliner landed at Syria's Aleppo airport on Wednesday, marking the relaunch of commercial flights to the war-torn northern city after more than eight years.

The flight came days after the government announced it had wrested the entire region around Syria's second city, an industrial hub, from jihadists and their rebel allies.

Together with the capture of the M5, a highway connecting the country's four largest cities and now back in regime hands for the first time since 2012, the reopening of the airport is a key symbolic and economic gain for the government.

The ministers of transport and tourism were both on the Syrian Air Airbus A320 that flew from the capital to Aleppo, along with a group of journalists invited by the information ministry, including an AFP correspondent.

Roughly 40 minutes after takeoff, the plane touched down at 11:22 am (0922 GMT) at Aleppo airport east of the city, where officials and staff were gathered in a festive atmosphere.

The event was broadcast live on state television.

State news agency SANA quoted Transport Minister Ali Hammud as welcoming the reopening of the airport and the relaunch of domestic and international flights.

He described it as "a significant victory achieved thanks to the sacrifices of the heroic Syrian army and the steadfastness of the Syrian people".

The Syrian authorities announced the reopening of the airport on Monday and said that commercial flights from Damascus and Cairo would start "in the coming days".

Civilian flights had stopped completely at Aleppo airport when rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad seized control of large parts of the city in 2012.

Some flights chartered by the defence ministry and carrying journalists, visiting dignitaries or people needing medical evacuation started landing in Aleppo as early as 2014.

Trial flights with a view to resuming commercial operations took off from Aleppo in 2017, days after the climax of a devastating siege that ended rebel control in Syria's second city.

With its troops engaged on several fronts, the government took time to secure areas around Aleppo and to reopen trade routes connecting the former industrial hub.

Government forces are still sweeping areas west of Aleppo, from which rebels have repeatedly fired rockets at the city.

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