BAMAKO, Jan. 28 (Xinhua) -- The Malian army with the backing of the French troops claimed control of the airport in the northern town of Timbuktu on Monday.
In a statement, the military said they had seized the airport and were combing the town abandoned by rebel fighters.
Timbuktu is the second major town in northern Mali to be recaptured by Malian and French forces in the past days.
On Friday night, northern Mali's biggest town of Gao was taken back from fleeing rebels of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).
MUJAO, Al-Qaida-linked AQIM and Ansar Dine constitute the bulk of rebels who occupied Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal in the aftermath of a military coup on March 22, 2012.
With the Mali-France operations making headway, Kidal is left the last major town in the north to return to the south-based government.
While rebels are fleeing northern towns amid air raids by French warplanes, sporadic fighting is still reported.
The Malian army exchanged fire with rebels in Gao two day after it was recaptured, witnesses told Xinhua on Sunday night.
"Currently (21:20 GMT), there's an exchange of fire between the Malian army which is being supported by its French and African allies, and the Islamists on the northern side of our town," a resident of Gao said.
Another local source who spoke on the phone confirmed the shootout. "About 10 minutes ago, the situation calmed down. The Islamists fled to the town of Siena, a zone which is situated about 15 km to the north of the town. The gunshots have ceased."
He said many believe that the rebels could have fled to the nearby towns of Bourem and Gourma.
In the past 36 hours, 15 large carriers arrived in Mali to deliver materials and vehicles to reinforce troops engaged in "Operation Serval."
At the moment, the number of French forces deployed to the ground has increased to 2,900 and African troops have risen to 2, 700, according to military sources.