Syrian rebels say will target Aleppo airport

Fri Dec 21, 2012 3:21pm EST
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By Mariam Karouny

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels warned on Friday they will target the international airport of the northern city of Aleppo after firing at an airliner preparing to take off, the first direct attack on civilian a flight in the 21-month-old revolt.

Thursday's attack was another sign of the growing confidence of rebels who are also fighting an offensive in the central province of Hama, pursuing a string of territorial gains to try to cut army supply lines and pressure the capital Damascus to the south.

A rebel commander who gave his name as Khaldoun told Reuters by Skype that snipers from the Intelligence Armed Struggle Battalion, part of the Islamist Jundallah brigade, had hit the wheels of Syrian Airways flight RB201 on Thursday.

"Those were warning shots," he said, adding that the plane had been unable to take off. "We wanted to send a message to the regime that all their planes - military and civilian - are within our reach."

There was no immediate mention of the incident on Syrian state media.

Rebels accuse the government of using civilian aircraft to transport weapons and Iranian fighters who they say are helping President Bashar al-Assad's forces. Insurgents have cut off many of the road links to Aleppo, Syria's biggest city.

Fighting around Damascus has made the road to the capital's international airport unsafe for traffic. Foreign airlines have stopped flying there. According to flight schedules, the Cairo-bound RB201 usually flies from Damascus rather than Aleppo.

"What happened with Damascus airport will happen to Aleppo, even if the price is higher," Khaldoun said.   Continued...

Free Syrian Army fighters are seen at a front line during fighting with Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad at Bustan al-Qasr district in Aleppo December 21, 2012. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah