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 Associated Press informs.
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 being repaired and was scheduled to reopen in the coming days, for the first time in eight years.
Backed by heavy Russian airstrikes, 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. 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 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 military campaign has also killed hundreds of civilians and disrupted aid distribution, with the bitter winter compounding the suffering.
The Syrian Air flight landed at Aleppo airport after a 40-minute flight from Damascus and was received on the ground by a military band at the tarmac. 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.