International flights to Damascus are grounded as fighting intensifies in the Syrian capital.
Dubai’s Emirates airlines has suspended all services into and out of the country with immediate effect, and EgyptAir has cancelled its Friday flight from Cairo to the city, blaming the “deteriorating situation” around the airport.
The moves, which threaten to isolate parts of the country still further, came as internet and mobile-phone services in the country were cut off.
Two US-based internet-monitoring companies say the internet was shut down nationwide at 10.26am GMT, but the Syrian government blamed “terrorists” for the blackout.
The country’s information ministry said: “It is not true that the state cut the internet. The terrorists targeted the internet lines, resulting in some regions being cut off.”
State television said engineers were working to repair the “fault”. There have been previous partial internet blackouts during the 20-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad, but a total nationwide shutdown is unprecedented, fuelling opposition claims that a major regime operation is imminent.
A senior officer from the opposition FSA was quoted on an opposition website claiming that the cutting of the internet was a deliberate media blackout by the regime which he said is moving a whole section of missile divisions to the mountains above Damascus. The opposition says that these are long-range missiles equipped with chemical warheads.
The same officer alleged that the regime was planning to cut the electricity tonight in most Syrian cities to allow it to home in on the source of material being uploaded to the internet.
Emirates announced on its website that it had suspended its twice-daily flights to and from Damascus until further notice, saying its priority was the safety of passengers and crew.
It follows intensification of violence in and around the capital in the latest phase of the civil rebellion.
More than 30 people are believed to have died on Wednesday in two car-bomb explosions in the south-east of the city.
There have also been clashes between security forces and rebels in the same Jaramana district and to the east of Damascus.
While Jaramana is reportedly still under government control, rebels hold most of the suburbs on the eastern side of Damascus, and the fighting has moved closer to the international airport, prompting the safety moves by the airlines.
Elsewhere in Syria, Associated Press reported that rebels had bombed the house of a top member of the country’s ruling Baath party in the south, killing him and his three bodyguards.
The bombing took place in Daraa, where the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
Since then, rebels have targeted regime figures and military commanders in the capital, Damascus, and in other places around the country.
The increasing frequency of bombings, a hallmark of Islamic extremists like al-Qaida, has led to concerns about the growing role of Islamist militants in the civil war.