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Fierce clashes near Damascus airport

30 November 2012, 14:19

 Damascus - Fierce clashes raged throughout the night near Damascus airport, with a shell slamming into a bus carrying airport workers, as internet and phone links in Syria remained cut on Friday for a second straight day.

Delegates from more than 60 countries, meanwhile, were gathering in Tokyo to find ways to step up the pressure on President Bashar Assad's regime.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the main road to Damascus from the airport, which was closed on Thursday due to the fighting, had reopened but said a bus carrying airport employees had been hit by a shell, killing two people.

A security source also reported the deaths, blaming rebels for the shelling, but SyrianAir director Ghida Abdellatif said the two employees were wounded and that the airport itself was not shelled.

An airport source said air traffic and passenger boarding was normal on Friday, after EgyptAir and Emirates had on Thursday announced a suspension of flights because of the violence.

The airport informed foreign airlines to resume flight after "the restoration of security on the road" to the airport, he said.

Airport road

Abdellatif said a flight to Jeddah via Aleppo had already left, while flights to Khartoum and Cairo were planned.

The Local Co-ordination Committees, a network of activists on the ground, said that during the night rebels bombed the Harran al-Awamid military barracks, which is responsible for protecting the airport.

It also reported fierce fighting along stretches of the 27km road linking Damascus to the airport.

"After strong clashes, rebels were able to take control of a part of the airport road between the second and fourth bridge," it said.

State television had on Thursday night quoted the information ministry as saying that the Damascus airport road had been "secured" after military intervention.

A military source in Damascus said the army had taken control of the western side of the road leading to the airport and a small portion on the east by dawn, allowing travellers to move through.

Networks down

"But the most difficult part is yet to come. The army wants to take control of the eastern side, where there are thousands of terrorists and this will take several days," he said, using the term regime officials use for rebel fighters.

The Observatory, which reported 108 deaths in violence across Syria on Thursday based on information from activists and medics on the ground, said most phones and internet networks were down for a second straight day on Friday.

"In some areas, it is possible to access the internet but with great difficulty," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Observatory, said.

"It is also very difficult to reach people by phone. But we have received reports that it is possible to communicate between certain regions via fixed telephone lines," he added.

AFP correspondents noted that internet and telephone communications, including mobile phones, were cut in the capital.

On Thursday, activists accused the regime of preparing a "massacre" when the telephone lines and internet first went down, while the authorities explained the cut was due to "maintenance" work.

US weighing further assistance

Washington branded it as a desperate move on part of the regime.

But State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that around 2 000 communications sets supplied to opposition rebels over recent months as part of a US non-lethal assistance programme were not affected by the blackout.

Washington was weighing what further help it can give the opposition, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday, without spelling out if they would win full US recognition.

"We are going to carefully consider what more we can do," Clinton told a Washington forum. "I'm sure we will do more in the weeks ahead."

On Friday, delegates from more than 60 countries gathered in Tokyo, seeking to ramp up pressure on Assad.

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told the "Friends of Syria" group that the international community had to act together where the divided UN Security Council had failed.

"While the United Nations Security Council has been unable to assume its primary responsibility, it's increasingly important for the international community to act as one in order to deal with" the continuing violence, he said.



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