BEIRUT — Syrian forces battled rebels near the airport in war-battered Aleppo, Syria’s state media said Friday, in the first official acknowledgment that fighting has reached the doorstep of the strategic site in the country’s largest city.
Rebel footholds in Aleppo have been the target of weeks of Syrian shelling and air attacks as part of wider offensives by President Bashar Assad’s regime. Rebels have been driven from some areas, but the report of clashes near the airport suggests the battles could be shifting to new fronts.
Syria’s official SANA news agency said “armed terrorist groups” – the regime’s phrase for rebels – had been pushed out from areas on both sides of the airport, which is located about 15 kilometers (9 miles) southeast of Aleppo’s historical center.
The report did not make it clear whether the fighting was closer to the international airport or the adjacent military airfield, a hub for air strike missions on rebel sites in the north.
Aleppo carries major symbolic and strategic value. It’s the hub of northern Syria and close to rebel-held territory and critical supply corridors to the Turkish border.
Rebels have sought control of the ancient center, dominated by a medieval Crusader castle. That would deal an embarrassing blow to the regime’s claim that its overwhelming firepower can halt opposition advances.
Civilians, meanwhile, have been increasingly caught in the crossfire. At dawn Thursday, shells fired by the Syrian military hit a bread line outside a bakery in Aleppo, killing at least 10 people, activists said.
“Those who think that the Syrian Arab army will be defeated are dreaming,” said Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Moallem in a state TV interview late Thursday.
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