Syria jets bombard rebel targets

Foreign carriers have halted flights to the capital Damascus after attacks close to the airport.

FILE: Syrian rebels celebrate next to the remains of a Syrian government fighter jet which was shot down at Daret Ezza, on the border between the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, on November 28, 2012. Picture: AFP.

DAMASCUS - Syrian air force jets bombarded rebel targets on Friday close to the Damascus airport road and a regional airline said foreign carriers had halted flights to the capital.

Activists said security forces clashed with rebels trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad around Aqraba and Babilla districts on the south-eastern outskirts of Damascus which lead to the international airport.

Internet connections and most telephone lines were down for a second day, the worst communications outage in a 20-month-old uprising in which 40,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced to flee the country.

The mostly Sunni Muslim rebels who are battling Assad, from Syria's Alawite minority linked to Shi'ite Islam, have been making gains around Syria by overrunning military bases and have been ramping up attacks on Damascus, his seat of power.

A spokesman for a rebel Military Council in Damascus, Musaab Abu Qitada, told Reuters on Thursday they were also trying to "liberate" the airport to stop planes they said were delivering arms to the government.

A resident of central Damascus said he saw black smoke rising from the east and the south of the city on Friday morning and could hear the constant boom of shelling. State television said Assad's forces were fighting rebels in those areas.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the conflict had reached "new and appalling heights of brutality and violence".

The government had intensified its campaigns to root out opposition strongholds and increased shelling and air strikes, Ban told the U.N. General Assembly. "Opposition elements also have stepped up their attacks. I am horrified and saddened and condemn the seemingly daily massacres of civilians," he added.