At least 200 members of a Syrian regime force deployed to protect Damascus’s international Airport have defected as clashes broke out Friday night near the presidential palace in the capital, a member of the opposition military told Al Arabiya on Saturday.
The Free Syrian Army said clashes continued through Saturday morning on the airport road, adding that a road connecting the capital with the province of Deraa was closed and declared military zone.
Syrian rebels warned on Friday they will target the international airport of the northern city of Aleppo after firing at an airliner preparing to take off, the first direct attack on civilian a flight in the 21-month-old revolt.
Thursday’s attack was another sign of the growing confidence of rebels who are also fighting an offensive in the central province of Hama, pursuing a string of territorial gains to try to cut army supply lines and pressure the capital Damascus to the south.
A rebel commander who gave his name as Khaldoun told Reuters by Skype that snipers from the Intelligence Armed Struggle Battalion, part of the Islamist Jundallah brigade, had hit the wheels of Syrian Airways flight RB201 on Thursday.
“Those were warning shots,” he said, adding that the plane had been unable to take off. “We wanted to send a message to the regime that all their planes - military and civilian - are within our reach.”
There was no immediate mention of the incident on Syrian state media.
Rebels accuse the government of using civilian aircraft to transport weapons and Iranian fighters who they say are helping President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Insurgents have cut off many of the road links to Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city.