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Clashes in Syria shut down Aleppo airport

By The Associated Press

This article was originally published January 1, 2013 at 9:03 a.m. Updated January 1, 2013 at 1:49 p.m.

— Clashes between government troops and rebels on Tuesday forced the international airport in Aleppo to stop all flights in and out of Syria’s largest city, while fierce battles also raged in the suburbs of the capital Damascus.

The rebels have been making inroad in the civil war recently, capturing a string of military bases and posing a stiff challenge to the regime in Syria’s two major cities — Damascus and Aleppo.

The opposition trying to overthrow authoritarian President Bashar Assad has been fighting for control of Aleppo since the summer, and they have captured large swathes of territory in Aleppo province west and north of the city up to the Turkish border.

In the past few weeks, the rebels have stepped up their attacks on airports around Aleppo province, trying to chip away at the government’s air power, which poses the biggest obstacle to their advances.

The air force has been bombing and strafing rebel positions and attacking towns under opposition control for months. But the rebels have no planes or effective anti-aircraft weapons to counter the attacks.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime activist group, said the fighting around the base of Syrian army Brigade 80, part of a force protecting Aleppo International Airport, led to the closure of the airport late Monday.

The Syrian government had no comment on the closing of the airport. On Saturday, Syria’s national airline canceled a flight to Aleppo because of fighting nearby.

Rebels have warned that they would target civilian as well as military planes using the Aleppo airport, saying the regime is using civilian planes to bring in supplies and weapons.

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