Fighting cuts access to Damascus airport, flights suspended
By Oliver Holmes
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels battled forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad just outside Damascus on Thursday, cutting access to its international airport, and Dubai-based Emirates airline and EgyptAir stopped flights to the Syrian capital.
The Internet and some telephone lines went down across Syria. Rebels and the government traded blame for the blackout, the worst communications outage in 20 months of conflict.
Rebels fighting to topple Assad have been making gains around Syria by overrunning military bases and have been ramping up attacks on Damascus, his seat of power.
A rebel fighter who identified himself as Abu Omar, a member of the Jund Allah brigade, told Reuters that insurgents fired mortars at the airport's runways and were blocking the road linking it with the capital.
Speaking from the scene of the fighting, he said insurgents were not inside the airport but were able to block access to and from it.
A spokesman for a rebel Military Council in Damascus, Musaab Abu Qitada, said an artillery round was fired at a military site inside the airport and that fighting was now less than a kilometer (mile) away from the complex.
"We want to liberate the airport because of reports we see and our own information we have that shows civilian airplanes are being flown in here with weapons for the regime. It is our right to stop this," he told Reuters on Skype from Damascus.
U.S. and European officials said rebels were making gains in Syria, gradually eroding Assad's power, but said the fighting had not yet shifted decisively in their favor. Continued...