New year marked by more violence

Damascus AFP-JIJI

Syrians awoke to airstrikes near Damascus on New Year’s Day and the closure of Aleppo Airport after repeated rebel attacks, casting doubts on efforts to end the country’s 21-month civil war.

The brutality of the conflict was highlighted in a graphic new video posted on the Internet by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, allegedly showing soldiers stabbing two prisoners to death.

And in a fresh blow to Syrian President Bashar Assad, a Turkish diplomat said some 20 proregime soldiers, including a general, defected Tuesday and fled to Turkey, the rear base of the insurgents battling the regime.

At least 69 people were killed across Syria, said the Observatory, which puts the overall death toll since the conflict erupted in May 2011 at more than 46,000.

In northern Syria, where insurgents hold huge swaths of territory, authorities announced the closure of Aleppo Airport after rebel attacks.

An airport official said the facility would be shut “for a very short period of time” as the army tries to regain control of rebel-held areas around it to avoid a “humanitarian disaster.”