Many Syrians woke up on New Year’s Day to the sound of countrywide aerial bombardment by government forces, as officials said that the international airport in the country’s second city had been temporarily closed due to repeated attacks by rebel fighters.
The closure of the aviation hub in Aleppo came as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces bombarded rebel-held areas and clashed with opposition fighters in several towns.
“There have been continued attempts by opposition militants to target civilian aircraft, which could cause a humanitarian disaster,” an official at the airport told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity on Tuesday.
The official said the airport would be closed for a “very short period of time” while the army sought to regain control of surrounding areas where many rebels had set up base.
However, authorities said that the airport was closed for maintenance work to the runway and other facilities.
Fighting in Aleppo has been at a stalemate for months since July when opposition fighters launched a massive assault on the city, Syria’s most populated city.
Meanwhile, in Damascus, residents entered the new year to the sound of artillery hitting southern and eastern districts that form a rebel-held crescent on the outskirts of the capital, the centre of which is still firmly under government control.
‘No Happy New Year’
Many soldiers manning checkpoints in the centre fired celebratory gunfire at midnight, causing alarm in a city where streets were largely deserted.
“How can they celebrate? There is no ‘Happy New Year’,” Moaz al-Shami, an opposition activists who lives in the central Mezzeh district, said.
Shami said rebel fighters attacked one checkpoint in the district of Berzeh early on Tuesday.
Opposition groups said mortar bombs hit the southwest suburb of Daraya, where the army launched a military offensive on Monday to retake the battered district.
The air force pounded Damascus’s eastern suburbs, opposition activists said.
An estimated 45,000 people have been killed in the revolt, which started in early 2011 with peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms but turned into an armed uprising after months of attacks on protesters by security forces.
In the central city of Homs, shells landed on the Old City neighbourhoods early on Tuesday, activists said
“The Old City is under siege. There is shelling from all sides,” a resident there said.
Homs lies on the strategic north-south highway and parts of the ancient city have been levelled during months of clashes.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, reported 160 people killed on the final day of 2012, including at least 37 government troops.