Satellite photos: Likely Israel strike damages Syria airport

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A suspected Israeli airstrike targeting Aleppo International Airport in Syria again left multiple craters on its runway, satellite images analyzed by The Associated Press showed Thursday.

Separately, a U.N. official criticized the attack for hindering earthquake relief for the hard-hit, war-torn Syria.

The attack on Aleppo airport comes as Israel previously struck the airfield as part of an Israeli campaign to disrupt Iranian weapons transfers to the country. Those attacks have continued despite ongoing political turmoil in Israel and as Iran’s nuclear program edges closer to enriching weapons-grade levels of uranium as negotiations over it have fallen apart.

The satellite photos, taken early Tuesday afternoon by Planet Labs PBC, show vehicles gathered on the airport’s single asphalt runway around the damage. One spot, directly south of its passenger terminal, appeared to be a new, significant crater.

It appeared the strike also targeted three patched areas earlier struck in suspected Israeli attacks in September. The runway also was struck in late August at another spot, though that patch work appeared undamaged.

Aleppo’s airport, like many others in Middle East nations, is a dual-use facility that include civilian and military sides. Iran has been key in arming and supporting President Bashar Assad in his country’s long civil war.

The attack Tuesday shut the Aleppo airport, with Syria’s Foreign Ministry describing it as a “double crime” as it targeted a civilian airport and a main channel for the flow of aid to areas hit by last month’s earthquake.

Since the Feb. 6, earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria and killed more than 50,000 people, including about 6,000 in Syria, scores of flights carrying aid from different countries have landed at the Aleppo airport.

Authorities say relief flights now have been diverted to airports in Damascus and Latakia.

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency, citing the country’s transportation minister, said Thursday the airport would reopen on Friday and be available for earthquake relief flights “around the clock.”

On Wednesday, a U.N. official overseeing relief efforts in Syria asked that “all feasible precautions” be taken “to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of hostilities.”

“The impact of this closure impedes humanitarian access and could have drastic humanitarian consequences for millions of people who have been affected by the earthquake,” El-Mostafa Benlamlih said. “Even more so, it could have adverse effects on the wider vulnerable population in need of humanitarian assistance.”

The office of Israel’s prime minister declined to comment Thursday when reached by the AP.

For the first time since the massive earthquake, Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Amir Abdollahian during a visit to Syria on Thursday condemned “repeated Israeli attacks on Syrian territory.”

He also praised Arab countries for their recent efforts to restore ties with Damascus, especially since the quake disaster.

Iran, which has supported Assad throughout Syria’s civil war, was among the first to send aid after the earthquake. Assistance has also arrived from countries that oppose Assad — including Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia.

The U.N. envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, called on Wednesday for a return to U.N.-facilitated talks between the Syrian government and opposition to reach a political resolution to the conflict,.

Abdollahian also on Thursday welcomed a meeting due next week in Moscow of Syrian, Turkish, Russian and Iranian officials. The meeting is not under U.N. auspices.

Associated Press writer Samar Kassaballi in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.

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