Beirut: Syrian troops today evening launched a major offensive in southeastern Damascus along the airport road, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, after earlier reporting the route had been closed.
The army attacked rebel strongholds in a string of towns along the highway and near the airport, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by phone. State media also reported operations in the area.
The fighting, which came after Internet links went down across most of Syria, caused EgyptAir and Emirates to announce the cancellation of flights to Damascus.
The heaviest clashes erupted between troops and rebels in the towns of Babila and Hujaira southeast of the capital and in Harran al-Awamid, just east of the airport, the Observatory said, adding that army reinforcements had been sent to the area.
Official media also reported operations in the province and said several members of an "armed terrorist group, Al-Nusra Front" had been killed in the town of Aqraba.
The army also went on the offensive across the eastern outer belt of the capital, notably in the towns of Harasta and Douma and in Eastern Ghuta, the Observatory said.
Technology companies which monitor web traffic reported today that Syria was effectively cut off from the Internet.
Akamai, one of the firms which monitors global traffic, said traffic stopped from 1026 GMT, and that this supports the observation from another IT firm, Renesys, "that Syria is effectively off the Internet."
According to activists, sudden communication cuts regularly occur before major military offensives.
An EgyptAir official in Cairo said the airline had cancelled its Friday flight to Damascus because of deteriorated security at the airport and a breakdown in communication with its office there.
In Dubai, Emirates said it suspended flights to Damascus after the airport road was blocked by the clashes.
"Emirates has suspended all flights to and from Damascus effective immediately and until further notice," a spokesperson for the company said.
Regime forces have regularly carried out air strikes on this area, in an attempt to dislodge rebels from their rear bases in the orchards on the outskirts of the capital.
The goal of the army is to take full control of the capital and a radius of eight kilometers around it, a Syrian security official told AFP.
The authorities in the morning closed the airport road, located 27 kilometres from the centre of Damascus, and which passes through the embattled Eastern Ghouta region.