Syrian forces pound Damascus suburbs, flights to resume

Sun Dec 2, 2012 6:57pm EST
 
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By Erika Solomon

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian forces pounded rebel-held suburbs around Damascus with fighter jets and rockets on Sunday, opposition activists said, killing and wounding dozens in an offensive to push rebels away from the airport and stop them closing in on the capital.

The army struck hard after a week of rebel advances, including the capture of two military bases near the capital. Rebels had been planning to push into central Damascus from their strongholds on the outskirts and fighting in the past week has been fierce.

Activists said heavy rocket fire struck towns close to the Damascus airport road, where rebels and the army had been locked in three days of clashes. Some described constant shelling, similar to carpet bombing, in towns like Beit Saham.

"It was frightening because it was the first time we heard continuous shelling. Really powerful explosions, one after the other, were shaking the area. I could see fire coming up from the town," said Samir al-Shami, from the opposition's Syrian Youth Union, speaking by Skype.

"This was the worst day in those people's lives."

In a sign the government had regained some control over the airport, EgyptAir said it was resuming flights to Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo on Monday after a three-day halt in which Damascus airport was effectively closed due to unrest. The airline's head said conditions were stable.

No comment was immediately available from Emirates Airline, which had also suspended its flights indefinitely.

The army's assaults appear to have staved off a rebel advance into central Damascus so far. But neither side has gained ground in recent days, and fighting continued along the outskirts of the city despite heavy shelling by Assad's forces.   Continued...

 
A general view of buildings, damaged by what activists said were missiles fired by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, in Daria near Damascus December 1, 2012. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Derani/Shaam News Network/Handout