Warplanes, artillery strike on outskirts of capital
BEIRUT – Fierce clashes and heavy government bombardment were reported Sunday on the outskirts of Damascus as Syrian government forces pressed an offensive aimed at securing the capital and its vulnerable international airport.
Syrian warplanes and artillery pounded rebel-held positions south and east of the capital, opposition spokesmen said, continuing a pattern of heavy strikes that has continued for at least four days.
The government appears intent on creating a security cordon around the capital and along the road to the airport, where flights were interrupted last week because of clashes along the main airport road. The government reportedly brought in reinforcements to secure the route to the airport, southeast of downtown Damascus.
The pro-government Al Watan newspaper reported Sunday that the Syrian army “has completely opened the gates of hell before all who would even consider approaching Damascus or planning to attack it.”
Losing access to the airport would be a major psychological and strategic blow for the beleaguered government of President Bashar Assad, whose territory has steadily eroded.
The official state news service reported Sunday that troops killed scores of “al-Qaida terrorists” in various Damascus suburbs. The government routinely links rebels to al-Qaida, though opposition commanders insist that brigades linked to al-Qaida or inspired by Osama bin Laden’s philosophy represent a small minority of the highly fragmented rebel force.
Also on Sunday, government and opposition spokesmen reported that a car bomb exploded in the city of Homs, killing as many as 15.