independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Rebels press on in airport battle

Syrian rebels have declared the airport in Damascus a legitimate target (AP)

Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad have declared Damascus International Airport a "legitimate target" in a bid to cut off regime supplies, as clashes between government troops and rebels forced the closure of the airport road for the second time this week.

Fighting around the Syrian capital and the airport has intensified in recent days as rebels press a battle they hope will lead to the collapse of Assad's regime after 20 months of conflict.

They have set their sights on the city of 1.7 million and fighting on the outskirts is raising fears that it soon could be facing the most brutal battle of the Syrian civil war.

The rebels issued a stern warning to the regime and travellers planning to use the country's main airport, just a few miles south of the capital. Loss of control of the airport would be a major blow to the regime.

A fighter who is part of the push against the airport declared it a legitimate target, claiming that the regime has stationed troops and elite forces in it as well as military planes which transport ammunition.

The clashes have already forced the suspension of commercial flights over the past week, although airport officials said the facility was still functioning.

Rebels said they were trying to cut military supplies to the government. Iran and Russia are widely believed to be supplying it with weapons through the airport. Over the past months, Turkey and Iraq stopped several planes coming from those two countries which were headed to Damascus and searched them.

"This would send a very strong political message to the regime, it will be a moral victory, to say the least," said the fighter, who gave only his first name, Nour. "The battle to cut off the regime supplies from the airport has started."

Another rebel, speaking anonymously, said the airport is now considered a "military zone". "We urge civilians to stay away," said the rebel, a member of the Damascus area military command involved in the most recent fighting.

An airport official said the highway leading to the facility was closed because of the fighting. The officials said the airport was functioning as normal and that people were reaching it through side roads.

Press Association

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