SYRIAN rebels are closing in on the country's second-largest airport, reportedly killing more than 40 soldiers and bringing them closer to what could be their biggest conquest since the start of the civil war.
Control of Aleppo International Airport and a military airbase next to it would be a strategic shift, giving the opposition a potential air hub and enabling aid and other flights.
However, activists said it could be days yet before the rebels could push their way into the airport, seven kilometres from the contested city centre.
Syria's air space is firmly controlled by the government, which uses its warplanes to bomb rebel strongholds.
The advance on the airport, which stopped handling any flights weeks ago because of the fighting, comes on the heels of other strategic gains.
Rebels this week captured the nation's largest dam and a military base near Aleppo. They have also brought the fight closer to Damascus, moving to within a few miles from the heart of the city.
"There have been some extremely significant advances by the rebels in the past few days.
"There is real fear and flagging morale among regime forces," said Muhieddine Lathkani, a London-based member of the Syrian National Council opposition group.
The government tried to reverse the opposition gains with a series of air strikes in several locations across the country yesterday.
In Jobar, a rebel stronghold in Damascus, 13 people were killed in government shelling.
Fighter jets also carried out air strikes on rebel positions in the central province of Homs, it was claimed.
The rebels have been pushing their way into the capital since last week.
The foray marks the opposition's second significant attempt to storm Damascus since July, when the rebels captured several neighbourhoods before being swept out by a government counter-offensive.
Since then, the regime has buckled down in Damascus, setting up checkpoints and controlling movement in and out of the city.