Army Launches Major Offensive along Damascus Airport Road as Aleppo Raid Kills 15إقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Most communications were down in Syria on Thursday evening as regime troops launched a major offensive in southeastern Damascus along the airport road, monitors said.
The army attacked rebel strongholds in a string of towns along the highway and near the airport, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France Presse by phone. State media also reported operations in the area.
The fighting, which came after Internet links went down across most of Syria, caused EgyptAir and Emirates to announce the cancellation of flights to Damascus.
The heaviest clashes erupted between troops and rebels in the towns of Babila and Hujaira southeast of the capital and in Harran al-Awamid, just east of the airport, the Observatory said, adding that army reinforcements had been sent to the area.
Official media also reported operations in the province and said several members of an "armed terrorist group, Al-Nusra Front" had been killed in the town of Aqraba.
The army also went on the offensive across the eastern outer belt of the capital, notably in the towns of Harasta and Douma and in Eastern Ghouta, the Observatory said.
Technology companies which monitor web traffic reported Thursday that Syria was effectively cut off from the Internet.
Akamai, one of the firms which monitors global traffic, said traffic stopped from 1026 GMT, and that this supports the observation from another IT firm, Renesys, "that Syria is effectively off the Internet."
According to activists, sudden communication cuts regularly occur before major military offensives.
An EgyptAir official in Cairo said the airline had canceled its Friday flight to Damascus because of deteriorated security at the airport and a breakdown in communication with its office there.
In Dubai, Emirates said it suspended flights to Damascus after the airport road was blocked by the clashes.
"Emirates has suspended all flights to and from Damascus effective immediately and until further notice," a spokesperson for the company said.
Regime forces have regularly carried out air strikes on this area, in an attempt to dislodge rebels from their rear bases in the orchards on the outskirts of the capital.
The goal of the army is to take full control of the capital and a radius of eight kilometers (five miles) around it, a Syrian security official told AFP.
The authorities in the morning closed the airport road, located 27 kilometers (17 miles) from the center of Damascus, and which passes through the embattled Eastern Ghouta region.
A regime air strike on the northern city of Aleppo, meanwhile, killed at least 15 civilians, said the Observatory.
US technology companies Akamai and Renesys which monitor web traffic said the war-torn country was cut off from the Internet from 1026 GMT.
"In the global routing table, all 84 of Syria's IP address blocks have become unreachable, effectively removing the country from the Internet," said Renesys.
In Damascus, users said both Internet and mobile telephone communications were cut and land lines barely functioning, while the country's Internet provider cited technical problems.
The state news agency SANA also had its feed interrupted at midday.
According to activists, sudden communication cuts are often a signal of imminent military offensives.
The Observatory said five children and two women were among at least 15 people killed when a government warplane dropped two bombs on the rebel-held Ansari district of Aleppo.
The strike hit two buildings in Aleppo, Syria's war-torn commercial capital in the north, while videos posted online by activists showed the facades of several apartments blown away.
The videos showed residents trying to rescue a wounded child and describing how barrel bombs were used in the raid.
Also in the north, several rebel brigades attacked the fortress-like Wadi Daif army base in Idlib province and fighting raged outside the nearby insurgent-held town of Maaret al-Numan, the Britain-based Observatory said.
Rebels who control vast swathes of territory in northern Syria have made significant gains in past days, including for the first time shooting down regime's attack aircraft with surface-to-air missiles.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Syrian rebels have obtained up to 40 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, citing Western and Middle Eastern intelligence officials.
Some of the missiles were supplied in the past weeks by Qatar, it said.
Analysts say the use by the rebels of the advanced weaponry marked a potential turning point in their prolonged war with President Bashar Assad's forces, in which according to the Observatory more than 40,000 people have died since March 2011.
Since the end of July, the Syrian regime has used its aerial superiority to try to suppress the growing insurgency.
On the diplomatic front, international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was due at 1400 GMT to brief the U.N. Security Council which remains divided between Western nations and Assad allies Russia and China over the Syrian crisis.
Moscow and Beijing have blocked three Security Council resolutions condemning the Syrian government.
Appointed after Kofi Annan threw in the towel, Brahimi has twice met with Assad and has held talks with a number of regional leaders in a bid to resolve the 20-month crisis.
Spain meanwhile announced its recognition of the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of Syria's people, boosting the opposition in its campaign to oust Assad.
France was the first Western state to recognize the coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people and it was swiftly joined by Britain. Paris has also suggested arming opposition fighters.
But even as international support grew for the opposition, Human Rights Watch on Thursday accused rebels in the field of using young boys to serve as fighters, guards and lookouts in the brutal conflict.
"Children as young as 14 have served in at least three opposition brigades, transporting weapons and supplies and acting as lookouts," the New York-based watchdog said.
"Children as young as 16 have carried arms and taken combat roles against government forces."