Syria army seizes key Aleppo airport road

Capture of highway will allow regime to deploy fresh troops to fiercly contested area around two northern airports.

Areas once considered safe havens becoming ''hot spots of conflict'' in Syria
Once considered a safe haven, al-Raqqa city is seeing fierce clashes between regime forces and rebels [Al Jazeera]

The Syrian army has announced it seized control of a key road linking the central province of Hama to Aleppo international airport and nearby Nayrab military airport .

“In collaboration with honourable citizens, troops carried out a special operation and restored security and stability to villages on the airport road,” the military said on Saturday in a statement published by state news agency SANA.

The capture of the road will allow the army to deploy fresh reinforcements and send supplies to the area near the airports, where fighting has raged since mid-February.

“This achievement shows the commitment of our forces to continue to fulfil their sacred national duty, repelling killings and aggression targeting our people and our country,” said the statement.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) confirmed the report and said the army will now be able to deploy fresh troops and supplies in the area.

Rebels launched last month an all-out assault on several airports in Aleppo province, including the international airport and Nayrab, which are located southeast of Syria’s second-largest city.

They have since captured Al-Jarrah military airport as well as several other air defence complexes and nearby checkpoints.

Clashes around the airport road were reportedly continuing despite the army’s capture.

Aleppo international airport has been closed since the start of the year.

Meanwhile, in the country’s north, fierce battles continued in around al-Raqqa city, near the Turkish border, reportedly leaving dozens of Syrian troops and rebel fighters dead.

Activists in Raqqa said on Saturday the army was using helicopters to strafe rebels in some parts of the provincial capital, in a rare escalation of violence in the city.

“Fierce clashes pitting rebel fighters from several battalions against regular troops have raged since dawn on the outskirts of Raqqa city… explosions could be heard in the city, and towers of smoke could be seen rising into the sky,” the SOHR said.

Raqqa has become home to at least 800,000 people who were forced to flee other war-torn parts of Syria.

Fresh battles also rocked Daraya, a key rebel enclave southwest of Damascus which the army has fought to take back from insurgents for several weeks.

The army is reported to have pounded the nearby rebel-held town Moadamiyat al-Sham, as well as Douma northeast of Damascus and Yabrud near the Lebanese border.

Refugee numbers

The United Nations says Syria’s war has killed more than 70,000 people in nearly two years since the outbreak of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The number of Syrian refugees has been rising rapidly and the UN says it is going to pass one million by next week.

The real numbers might be even bigger than that as the UN Refugee Agency does not take into account those that have not registered as refugees.

At least four million people are believed to have been internally displaced.

Despite the spiralling bloodshed, Iran has said Assad will take part in Syria’s next presidential election in 2014.