Al-Assad Beefs Up Troops near Damascus Airport


BEIRUT - The Syrian regime has deployed additional forces on a road near Damascus airport in a bid to stop an advance by opposition rebels, activists said Saturday.

"Soldiers from the elite 15th Army Brigade backed by tanks were brought into the area overnight and positioned on the road linking the airport to the capital," Haytham al-Abdullah, a Syrian activist in the area, told dpa.

The move came in response to a rebel advance in the area, he added.

Damascus and its suburbs have become key battlefields, as troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad fight to retake control of an eight-kilometer belt around the capital.

Opposition forces have been fighting troops in and around Damascus for weeks, raising the possibility that al-Assad could lose his hold on the capital.

Elsewhere, rebels urged civilians to stay clear of Aleppo airport, in northern Syria, saying the facility is no longer a safe area.

At the same time, Yasser Abboud, a commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army in the southern province of Daraa, called on civilians to avoid using a highway linking Daraa to Damascus.

"We call on civilians and truck drivers to avoid this road because it is now considered a military zone," he said.

News from Syria is difficult to verify as authorities have barred most foreign media from the country since a pro-democracy uprising started in March last year.

In other developments, the US-based Human Rights Watch has urged the main Syrian opposition coalition to use its influence to help release civilians kidnapped by insurgents in the conflict-torn country.

Two Russians and an Italian national were abducted last week in the port city of Lakatia, a rebel stronghold.

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