Syria Opens Aleppo Airport Ahead of Geneva Peace Talks
This week, Syria is reopening the airport in Aleppo. The event is meant to project a sense of security and triumph over rebels around the country's besieged city, once a major commercial center. Of course, it took the Syrian government taking over some of a three-mile space around the airport to make sure it was safe for the state-organized plane full of journalists on a bit of a surprise trip to land.
It's not uncommon for governments in war-torn cities to organize a media trip for journalists based abroad, by the way Syria did this one was a little odd: According to CNN's report of the trip, the government told participants that they were going to the front line in Damascus. Instead, they were driven to an airfield and put on an old Soviet plane. It was only after the plane was on its way that accompanying government officials pulled a "Surprise! We're going to Aleppo!" — an announcement that probably did nothing to relieve anyone, considering Aleppo, up until that flight, had not had an airport since December 2012.
State news agency SANA said that the airport had been closed due to "terrorists' attacks" that escalated last February when rebels in Aleppo started attacking airports around the city in Operation "Wars of Airports." One of the targets was the group entrusted with keeping the civilian airport secure.
When the plane landed, the journalists were greeted with a banner harkening the arrival of a "commercial flight" (bit of a stretch), and it was off with them on a bus tour of areas of the key city recently reclaimed by the government (the city was held by rebels for a year and a half). As with other cities in the conflict, the war seemed isolated in certain areas of the city —a trendy bistro here, a car bombing there, both co-existing in a weird state of normalcy.
The rebels who continue to vie with the Syrian government for control of Aleppo are now facing tough times within their own group as in-fighting continues. The Syrian government's off to Switzerland for the Geneva II peace talks, which begin today after much contention about whether they actually would. However, the rebel groups are decidedly underrepresented: Internal tensions mean opposing sides can't even be in the same room, making it unclear how beneficial the talks will be.