Commercial flights continue to Damascus despite unrest

Free Syrian Army fighters are seen at a check point in Erbeen, near Damascus December 31, 2012. Picture taken December 31, 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Bassam Al-Erbeeni - Shaam News Network/Handout)

Published Friday, January 4, 2013

Updated 10:23 pm: Flights to Damascus International Airport continued to operate on Friday contradicting earlier reports that air traffic was halted at Syria's main airport.

A high-level officer in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had told Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency that rebels had stopped all civilian flights at Damascus International Airport.

“The Damascus International Airport was now being used for military acts. FSA forces are highly influential in the region and the road to the airport is definitely not safe,” Arif al-Hammoud told Anadolu Agency Thursday.

An official at the airport denied the claim in a statement to Al-Akhbar, however. He added that only flagship airline, Syrian Air, has been departing and arriving at the airport, and that air traffic has been light. One flight originating in Damascus landed at Beirut International Airport earlier Friday.

Rebel commander Hammoud was formerly a colonel in the Syrian National Army. He announced his defection in a video broadcast in November 2011.

Last month, the FSA declared the Damascus Airport a military zone, warning civilians and airlines against flying over the area.

Rebel offensives against major airports in the war-ridden country have escalated in recent weeks.

Aleppo's airport has been closed since Tuesday after repeated attacks by rebels, according to an airport official who spoke to AFP.

Hundreds of fighters including two jihadi rebel groups, Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, have been fighting soldiers around the Taftanaz airbase in the northwest provice of Idlib, said the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Government warplanes pounded rebel positions in the area, the Observatory added.

Three rebels were also killed by troops around the Deir Ezzor military airport Friday, as fighting broke out in the provincial capital east of the country.

On Wednesday, the United Nations made shockwaves by announcing a toll of 60,000 dead in Syria's 21-month crisis. The figure is nearly a third more than the number activists had estimated (40,000), and is three times the UN death toll declared last summer.

Nine dead in Damascus car bomb

At least nine people were killed when a car bomb exploded in the Syrian capital Friday, in what state news agency SANA declared a “terrorist attack”.

The bomb hit a petrol station near a hospital. The Observatory and the opposition coalition's Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) activist network also reported the attack, and added that large numbers of government troops had deployed to the neighborhood afterwards.

In the town of Mleha, east of Damascus, bodies were being recovered from a service station hit by a government air strike on Wednesday.

The Observatory said at least 12 bodies were recovered, several of them rebels. The Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots network of activists, estimated that at least 50 people died in the attack.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

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