Airport in Syria’s Aleppo closed due to rebel attacks

ALEPPO, Syria- The international airport in Syria’s second city of Aleppo has been temporarily closed due to repeated attacks by rebel fighters, an official said on Tuesday.

The closure of the aviation hub came as regime warplanes bombarded the outskirts of the capital and rebels fought off an army offensive on a string of towns along the Damascus airport road, a watchdog said.

“There have been continued attempts by opposition militants to target civilian aircraft, which could cause a humanitarian disaster,” an official at the airport told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The official said the airport would be closed for a “very short period of time” while the army sought to regain control of surrounding areas where many rebels had set up base.

The authorities said, however, that the airport was closed for maintenance work to the runway and other facilities.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the runway closure came after a blast hit a civilian plane as it took off on Saturday, likely due to rebel shelling.

The Britain-based watchdog said no further details had emerged about the attack, and it was unclear if there was any damage to the aircraft or casualties.

Fighting in Aleppo has been at a stalemate for months since July when opposition fighters launched a massive assault on the city, Syria’s most populated and onetime commercial capital.

The assault opened a new front in the conflict that has killed more than 46,000 people erupting in March 2011, according to the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and medics for its information.

On Tuesday, warplanes raided the embattled northeastern suburbs of Damascus and the towns of Daraya and Moadamiyet al-Sham to the southwest as troops clashed with the rebel Free Syrian Army.

“Three air strikes by MIG planes have targeted the town since the morning, and the shelling is continuing,” Daraya activist Abu Kinan told AFP over the Internet.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) activist network also reported the raids and said tanks were on their way to Daraya.

Clashes occurred around the towns of Bait Saham and Aqraba along the airport road southeast of Damascus, while shelling killed three civilians in nearby Ziabiyeh, said the Observatory.

The SRGC reported artillery attacks on Ziabiyeh and the Damascus fair grounds, between the capital and the airport.

The army also tried to push back rebels in the northwestern province of Idlib, using helicopters to drop barrel bombs on the village of Darkush, said the Observatory.