Mortar Shells Hit Damascus Airport

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BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Insurgents lobbed two mortar shells at Damascus International Airport outside the Syrian capital on Friday, the official SANA news agency said, in a possible riposte to days of what antigovernment activists have called furious assaults against rebel enclaves elsewhere.

The mortars crashed into a kerosene tank and an out-of-service commercial airplane parked at the airport, causing "huge" material damage to the plane, SANA said.

The brief dispatch did not give details about where the shells were fired from, but in recent weeks, loyalist forces have been seeking to dislodge rebels from the fringes of the capital, Damascus, while insurgents have launched bomb attacks in some of the city's most guarded central neighborhoods.

SANA said firefighting crews had brought the blaze under control and the airport was functioning normally. The airport lies about 20 miles southeast of the capital, and there have been reports of fighting in the area for months, most recently, according to opposition activists, on Monday.

While the rebels have claimed in the past to have attacked the airport, the government has not generally acknowledged such claims. Several airlines have canceled flights because of the perceived hazards of flying in and out.

The development at the airport came a day after Syrian forces attacked insurgents in the central city of Homs, seeking to snap a stalemate there, moved against rebels ensconced in a seaport near Russia's naval station and apparently destroyed a historic bridge in the contested city of Deir al-Zour.

The fighting reported on Thursday may have left dozens of people dead just in the area of the seaport, Baniyas, and a nearby village, Bayda, according to activists affiliated with two antigovernment groups, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees. Some activists said more than 100 were killed in Bayda, including entire families, among them the mayor and his children.

Efforts to corroborate those reports were difficult because of restricted access for journalists in Syria. State news media said nothing about civilian casualties in the seaport combat, which SANA described as part of a campaign to seize weapons in a "raid against terrorists' dens."

Hania Mourtada reported from Beirut, and Alan Cowell from Paris.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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