ALEPPO, Syria (AP) — A Syrian commercial flight landed at Aleppo airport on Wednesday 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 northwestern province of Aleppo and seized the last segments of the strategic M5 highway linking Aleppo to Damascus. The motorway between Syria’s two biggest cities was reopened 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 neighboring Idlib province in northwestern 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. The U.N. has put the number of those displaced since Dec. 1 at more than 900,000 civilians — more than half of them women and children.
The Syrian Air flight landed at Aleppo airport after a 40-minute flight from Damascus. Earlier in the day, Syrian Tourism Minister Bishr al-Yazigi and Transport Minister Ali Hammoud opened the airport for business.
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.