Middle East

Damascus airport flights disrupted for second day

Damascus Airport
Image caption Syrian military jets are reported to have attacked rebel positions near Damascus airport

Many flights in and out of the Syrian capital Damascus have been cancelled for a second day after clashes spread close to the airport.

Several airlines say they are not able to use Damascus airport although state TV says domestic flights are operating.

And in the border province of Homs, at least 17 Lebanese fighters were killed by Syrian government forces.

Lebanese security officials said the group was ambushed entering the town of Tal Kalakh.

Reports said the men, fighting alongside Syrian rebels, were from northern areas of Lebanon sympathetic to the majority Sunni-led revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.


Meanwhile, across the country, internet and phone systems were also reportedly down for a second day.

Government officials and opposition activists blamed each other for the shutdown.

The Syrian government has previously cut off access to the internet during major military operations. However, correspondents say a nationwide switch-off is unprecedented.

Emirates airline and Egypt Air cancelled flights to Damascus on Thursday.

A spokesman for UAE-based Air Arabia told the BBC on Friday that its service to Damascus had also been cancelled as "the terminus has been shut down".

Royal Jordanian Airways also said it had suspended its Damascus route.

However, an airport source in Damascus told AFP news agency on Friday that air traffic and passenger boarding was normal.

"For the moment, we have not had any arrivals, but the airport is operating normally," the source said.

The head of national airline Syria Air said services were operating normally, state TV reported.

An aviation source in neighbouring Jordan quoted by Reuters said two Syria Air flights had crossed Jordanian air space heading for Damascus on Friday evening. The same source said international airlines were staying away.

Refugees 'targeted'

Meanwhile, the government is sending reinforcements to the area around the airport, the BBC's Lina Sinjab in Damascus reports.

Activists said Syrian air force jets bombarded rebel targets in the Aqraba and Babilla districts on Friday, close to the road leading to Damascus airport.

Thursday saw some of the heaviest shelling yet in suburbs of the capital by government forces, our correspondent adds.

A source in the Free Syrian Army told the BBC that the attack on the airport had been planned for a long time.

The rebels carrying out the attack were all from eastern parts of the countryside around Damascus, known as the Ghouta, and were well armed after capturing government weapons, including heavy weapons, in recent weeks, the source added.

Meanwhile, the UN's refugee agency has said it has received "disturbing reports" of refugees being targeted as they fled Syria, although it did not say who had targeted them.

The UNHCR also said that more than 250,000 people have been internally displaced in and around the flashpoint city of Homs.

Refugees are desperately lacking in basic supplies, including medicine, clothes and blankets, according to the UNHCR's Melissa Fleming.

Activists say more than 40,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.