DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A flight by private Syrian airline Cham Wings landed on Tuesday at an airport used by Russia’s military in the coastal province of Latakia in western Syria, the country's state news agency reported.
The flight from the city of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates was the first to land in at the airbase since Damascus airport was damaged by an Israeli airstrike earlier this month.
It is also the first Syrian international flight to land at the facility since Russia took it over after joining the war in Syria in September 2015, helping tip the balance of power in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
The Bassel al-Assad International Airport — known by the Russians as the Hmeimeem base — serves Latakia, Syria's key port on the Mediterranean.
The June 10 Israeli airstrike that struck Damascus International Airport caused significant damage to infrastructure and runways and rendered the main runway unserviceable. Work is still ongoing to fix the damage.
Since then, flights have been mostly diverted to the international airport in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and once its principal commercial center.
The Hmeimeem base is home to Russian warplanes that have for years been used to stage bombing runs against Assad's opponents as well as suspected hideouts of the Islamic State group. In 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin landed at the base where he met with Assad and top Russian and Syrian officers.
Israel’s military has declined to comment on the Damascus airport airstrike. The Syrian capital's airport is located just south of Damascus, where Syrian opposition activists say Iran-backed militiamen are active and have arms depots.
Israel has staged hundreds of strikes on targets in Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. The airport strike marked a major escalation in Israel's years-long campaign of airstrikes in Syria, further ratcheting up tensions between Israel on one side and Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah on the other.
Israel says it targets bases of Iran-allied militias, such as the militant Hezbollah group, which has fighters deployed in Syria fighting on the side of Assad’s government forces and ships arms believed to be bound for the militias.