Aleppo First flight 2020
© SANA via AP
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian officials and journalists disembark a Syrian commercial plane after it landed at Aleppo Airport, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. The Syrian commercial flight on Wednesday from Damascus, marked the resumption of internal flights between Syria's two largest cities for the first time since 2012.
A Syrian Air flight has landed at Aleppo International Airport for the first time in years, marking a milestone in the recovery of the city, which has been returning to normal life from the abyss of its civil war.

The commercial flight, carrying Syrian officials and journalists, landed in Aleppo on Wednesday, some 40 minutes after taking off from the capital, Damascus. The arrival of the Airbus A320 has become a symbolic message, marking the resumption of flights between Syria's two biggest cities.

Footage taken on the spot showed a crowd of people that came to the airport to welcome the first flight. Some cheered and waved Syrian national flags, others held placards with portraits of President Bashar Assad.

Transport Minister Ali Hammoud had earlier announced that Aleppo International Airport would soon be receiving both domestic and international flights, with one from Cairo, Egypt, scheduled for the coming days. The airport resumed its operations just days after the Syrian Army recaptured some villages in the Aleppo countryside from militants, eliminating a potential threat to civilian flights.

On Sunday, the Syrian SANA news agency reported that the army had liberated a total of 23 villages from the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group (formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra - an Al Qaeda offshoot in Syria), putting an end to the regular mortar shelling of the city by the jihadists.

Around the same time, the army also seized control over the strategic M5 highway linking Aleppo to the Syrian capital, which is now being repaired and is expected to reopen soon.

The reopening of the airport marks an important milestone in the city's gradual recovery, some three years after it was liberated from jihadists. Various anti-government armed groups invaded Aleppo in 2012, and it remained in the thick of the Syrian War ever since, with half of the city occupied by militant factions, including Al Nusra and other extremists, while the rest remained under the Syrian government's control.

Aleppo citizens had to live through constant looting, food and water shortages, and indiscriminate shelling by the militants, all while the western media preferred to put all the blame for the atrocities on the Syrian Army. The city sustained severe damage in the war. According to UNESCO, 10 percent of Aleppo's historical buildings have been destroyed, and as much as 60 percent of the Old City, a World Heritage Site, was seriously damaged.

Since Aleppo's liberation, Russia has been helping the Syrians to breathe life back into the city. Many cultural sites, including both mosques and Christian churches have since been restored. Half a million people returned to the city in the first year alone, according to the UN refugee agency.

Aleppo has been known for its vibrant cultural diversity and the peaceful coexistence of people of many different faiths and backgrounds, and this tradition is being carried on as the city recovers. One such sign is mass Christmas celebrations, which have again become an annual feature.