Syrian rebels close in on Aleppo airport

Smoke rises after heavy shelling in Aleppo, Syria, on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Syrian rebels knocked down army defenses and moved in on the country’s second-largest airport, which is in Aleppo. 

Associated Press

Smoke rises after heavy shelling in Aleppo, Syria, on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Syrian rebels knocked down army defenses and moved in on the country’s second-largest airport, which is in Aleppo. 

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian rebels knocked down army defenses and moved in on the country's second-largest airport Wednesday, reportedly killing more than 40 soldiers and bringing themselves closer to what could be their biggest conquest since the beginning of the civil war.

Control of Aleppo's international airport and a military air base next to it would be a huge strategic shift for Syria's northeastern region, giving the opposition a potential air hub enabling aid and other flights.

Still, activists said it could be days before the rebels would be able to push their way into the airport, 4 miles from the contested city center, and even then, it was unclear whether they would be able to retain control of the sprawling facility for long.

The country's air space is firmly controlled by the government, which uses its warplanes indiscriminately to bomb rebel strongholds.

The advance on the airport, which stopped handling any flights weeks ago because of the fighting, comes on the heels of other strategic gains. Rebels this week captured the nation's largest dam and a military base near Aleppo. They have also brought the fight closer to Damascus, seat of President Bashar Assad's regime, moving to within a few miles of the heart of the city.

The government tried to reverse the gains with a series of airstrikes in several locations across the country Wednesday.

Syrian rebels close in on Aleppo airport 02/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 9:48pm]

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