Syria diverts flights to Latakia after air strikes on Aleppo and Damascus airports

Simultaneous strikes blamed on Israel put main airports in capital and northern city out of service

A Cham Wings Airlines Airbus A320-211 sits on the tarmac at Syria's Aleppo airport after flights were diverted from Damascus airport following an Israeli strike in June 2022. AFP
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Flights to and from Syria will operate from the Mediterranean province of Latakia after Israeli air strikes on the airports in Damascus and Aleppo on Thursday, the government said.

The Syrian military said the “Israeli aggression” had put both airports out of service.

“At 13.50 this afternoon, Israeli forces carried out an air attack, targeting the international airports of Aleppo and Damascus, which led to damage to the airports’ landing strips, forcing them out of service,” a military statement said

While Israel has hit both airports before, this is the first time they have attacked them simultaneously.

Technical teams were sent assess the damage at both sites, the Transport Ministry said.

"After the attacks all departures and arrivals will be moved to Latakia airport,” it said.

Video footage of the attack in Damascus showed explosions throwing up debris and plumes of smoke rising above the airport as salvos of rockets hit the main runway.

Amid the chaos after the strikes, Syrian airlines instructed passengers to make alternative travel arrangements.

The civil aviation authority immediately began working to clear the debris and repair the damage.

A Syrian airline captain said he did not expect full services to resume even after the airports were operational again.

“Obviously you can see the Israelis have taken Aleppo and Damascus airports out of service," he told The National.

"But we suspect that even when repairs and maintenance are made, then another attack will take place given the situation in Gaza."

The Israeli military has been bombing the Gaza Strip heavily since the Iran-backed Palestinian group Hamas launched attacks in Israel on Saturday, killing more than 1,300 people.

Charles Lister, senior fellow and director of the Syria and countering terrorism and extremism programmes at the Middle East Institute, said Israel's message from the Syrian strikes was loud and clear.

“Whether Iranian weapons were incoming or this was a pre-emptive strike remains to be seen – but the implications are clear: 'Iran, back off',” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Ammar Jeeb, a member of the ground staff at Damascus airport, saw Thursday's attacks.

“There were several large explosions on the runway," Mr Jeeb said. "Our planes were just metres from the bombings and the whole airport was shaking.

"This is not a military airport, it’s a civilian one, where normal passengers travel, so this attack during the day is a really a sign that they [Israel] don’t care about human life.

"Only last year we had the same attack. Three craters on the runway left it out of service for almost three full weeks.”

Israeli air strikes damaged one of the runways at the Aleppo airport in September last year, forcing a suspension of services.

Such attacks are often said to follow Iranian arms transfers through Damascus and Aleppo airports.

Israel rarely acknowledges the attacks but has said it would not allow the supply of arms to Iran-affiliated groups through Syria.

Updated: October 12, 2023, 8:39 PM