Damascus Remains Cut Off By Fighting

For a second day, the Syrian capital, Damascus is cut off from the outside world, with the international airport shut, the Internet down and mobile phone lines working sporadically. There are reports of fierce clashes around the capital and heavy airstrikes in the capital's suburbs and in the northern city of Aleppo.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. We're about to hear from our correspondents about events unfolding across the Mid East. A new draft constitution has sparked protests in Egypt, and Palestinians are celebrating the U.N.'s decision to upgrade their status. Those stories in just a moment.

MONTAGNE: We turn first to Syria. The capital, Damascus, is still cut off from the outside world. The international airport is shut down, Internet service is down, and mobile phones are working sporadically. NPR's Deborah Amos has that report.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: The widespread communication blackout took another step today. After most of the Internet went down on Thursday, U.S. tech companies that monitor Web traffic reported that the last Internet links have been cut. The Syrian government blamed terrorists for the outages, then claimed technical difficulties, but activists say the blackout appears to be part of a military showdown in the capital.

Rebels have made strategic gains for the past two weeks, seizing army bases and stockpiles of weapons. Two army divisions in the southern town of Dera'a, close to the Jordanian border, have pulled back to the capital, according to activists who can still communicate through satellite phones and the Jordanian cell phone network.

On Thursday, fighting was so intense around the international airport that airlines still flying into Syria cancelled all flights. An Egypt Air pilot landed at the height of the battle. He was instructed to take off without waiting for the passengers because the airport was no longer safe, according to reports from Cairo.

Two Austrian soldiers from a U.N. peacekeeping force were wounded on the airport road when their convoy came under fire.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER, SCREAMING)

AMOS: This video was posted from the neighborhood of Daria, a suburb of Damascus. Activists reported some of the heaviest air strikes since the 20-month uprising began. One bomb struck a large apartment building, and an emergency crew claws through piles of concrete rubble with heavy machinery and bare hands searching for survivors. But the devastating strike crushed the building and its inhabitants. The workers wail God is great as they pull a lifeless body from the dusty wreckage. Deborah Amos, NPR News, Antakya, Turkey.

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