Last updated: February 19. 2013 9:06PM - 137 Views

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BEIRUT — Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad set their sights Friday on the capital's international airport in a bid to cut off the regime's supplies, clashing with government troops nearby and again forcing the closure of the airport road.


A fighter who is part of the push against Damascus International Airport declared it a legitimate target, claiming that the regime has stationed troops and elite forces there as well as military planes that transport ammunition.


Losing control of the airport would be a major blow to the regime, which has recently lost two air bases near the capital.


It was unclear just how close to the airport, a few kilometers (miles) south of the capital, the battles reached. Fighting has intensified in the past week in the southern districts of the Syrian capital and its suburbs.


The rebels have made major military gains, and have been fighting closer to the regime's nerve center, which is the airport, for days, systematically chipping away at the political and military power off the Assad regime, said Fawaz A. Gerges, head of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.


The clashes around Damascus, a city of 1.7 million, have already forced the suspension of commercial flights over the past week, although airport officials insist the facility remains open and was functioning normally on Friday.


Rebels said they were targeting the airport in an effort to cut military supplies to the government.


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