Rebels circle Damascus airport; Russia, U.S. downbeat

Fighting around the capital city has intensified over the past week.

“Civilians who approach it now do so at their own risk,” he said. Fighters had “waited two weeks for the airport to be emptied of most civilians and airlines” before declaring it a target, he added. He did not say what they would do if aircraft tried to land. Foreign airlines have suspended all flights to Damascus since fighting has approached the airport in the past week, although some Syrian Air flights have used the airport in recent days.

Syria says the army is driving rebels back from positions in the suburbs and outskirts of Damascus where they have tried to concentrate their offensive. Accounts from rebels and the government are impossible to verify on the ground. Although Western opponents of Assad believe events are tipping against him, they also acknowledge that the war is still far from over. “It’s very clear to me that the regime’s forces are being ground down,” U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, withdrawn last year, was quoted as saying by CNN. “That said, the regime’s protection units continue to maintain some cohesion, and they still have some fight left in them, even though they are losing. I expect there will be substantial fighting in the days ahead.”

Rami Abdelrahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has tracked the fighting since it began in March 2011, said: “I think it’s unrealistic to expect that the battle is in its last stages right now.” The meeting of rebels in Antalya, Turkey, was aimed at forming a structure to run the conflict in conjunction with a new opposition National Coalition, which some European and Arab states have recognized as Syria’s legitimate representatives.

One delegate at the meeting, who asked not to be identified, said two-thirds of the 30 members of the newly named command had ties with the Muslim Brotherhood or were its political allies. “We are witnessing the result of the Qatari and Turkish creations,” said the delegate, referring to leading anti-Assad countries that are seen as backing the Brotherhood.

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