— Fighting raged around Syria's main airport Friday and an Internet blackout continued throughout Syria as diplomats from more than 60 countries met in Tokyo to tighten sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's government.
Heavy clashes are reported in towns near the airport and one activist said the government continued its bombing of the suburb of Daraya.
Rami Abd al-Rahman of the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that while the airport road is open, it is not completely secure, due to continuing fighting in various towns along the road. He said government forces are using both warplanes and artillery to bomb rebel positions near the airport road.
Analyst Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, says any long-term closure of the airport would “deprive the government of a significant supply route” used for “weapons and munitions from Russia and Iran.”
Kahwaji said fighting on the airport road may be a sign that rebel forces are beginning to encircle the capital:
“It is another indication that the rebels have actually gained control of all the suburbs of Damascus and are beginning to lay siege to the capital, starting from the east and the west and the south, and now the north," he said. "So, now the rebels are making quite a push on the capital."
Internet and telephone lines remained cut Friday throughout much of Syria for a second straight day.
The Internet blackout, confirmed by two U.S.-based companies that monitor online connectivity, is unprecedented in the 20-month-long uprising against Syria's President Assad.
Authorities often cut phone lines and Internet access in areas where government forces are conducting major military operations.
In Tokyo, the Friends of the Syrian People International Working Group on Sanctions issued a statement Friday after a one-day meeting, calling on those working with the Syrian regime to distance themselves or “face further isolation from the international community and the international economic and financial system.”
While Russia and China were not named in the statement, delegates confirmed it is meant to warn those two countries, who were not part of the Tokyo meeting.
The group also asked for a tightened embargo on petroleum products. The United States has banned the import of Syrian oil and gas. The European Union has not.
Representing one of the co-chairs, Ambassador Samir Arrour of Morocco, said the Tokyo meeting achieved its goal.
“This meeting was aimed at strengthening sanctions against the Syrian regime," Arrour said. "Most of the countries that were present agreed upon these kinds of action to provoke further search for a peaceful solution so we can see an end to the civilian casualties and a cessation of violence.”
While the Tokyo meeting itself imposed no new sanctions, it did formally hear from a number of countries about new sanctions they have imposed.
Among the most significant: Turkey revealed it has prohibited shipments of phosphate into Syria.
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said the group was taking collective action amid a failure by a divided United Nations Security Council to do so.
Francesso Fini, deputy director of sanctions security policy for the European External Action Service, said sanctions should help increase pressures on the Syrian regime.
“Sanctions, in themselves, will not achieve the solution," he said. "But they can contribute by putting pressure on the regime, by stopping funding reaching the regime with well-targeted measures - targeted and aimed at the regime and its supporters and protecting the population from intended effects."
This was the first meeting of the sanctions group in Asia. Bangladesh, Indonesia and Kosovo joined the group for the first time, and participants said this was a symbol of a further international “building of political will” about Syria.
The Tokyo meeting also was the first attended by representatives of a newly-formed Syrian opposition group - the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, which France, Britain, Turkey and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council have formally recognized as the Syrian people' legitimate representatives.
Co-chairs of the meeting in Japan told reporters the telecommunications outage in Syria was not mentioned during the conference, but a U.S. State Department official in Tokyo contradicted that account, saying the subject was discussed briefly.
A separate Friends of Syria group focusing on economic recovery and development in the country is to be held December 12 in Morocco. The sanctions group convenes again in Bulgaria next February.
A view of buildings damaged by what activists said were missiles fired by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet, Daria, Syria, November 30, 2012.
Demonstrators hold a placard that reads "Victory sign over the palace," during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers in Binsh, November 30, 2012.
People walk along a row of barb wire near the border with Syria, Sanliurfa province, Turkey, November 30, 2012.
Youths sit next to a row of barbed wire near the Syrian border, Sanliurfa province, Turkey, November 30, 2012.
An Ottoman-era building damaged by an air strike in a besieged area in Homs, Syria, November 28, 2012.
A Free Syrian Army fighter with an amputated hand, takes cover from a sniper loyal to Syria's President Bashar al -Assad, near Aleppo's historic citadel, November 28, 2012.
This image taken from video obtained from the Ugarit News shows smoke after a building was struck in a warplane attack in Homs, Syria, November 28, 2012.
A man carries parts of a warplane, belonging to forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in Daret Azzah, November 28, 2012.
This image taken from video obtained from the Ugarit News shows people near a destroyed plane that was shot down by Free Syrian Army fighters in Aleppo, Syria, November 28, 2012.
Residents pose near damaged wheat sacks after Syrian Air Force fighter jets fired missiles at the town of Ras al-Ain, Syria, November 26, 2012.
Members of the Free Syrian Army and men from the northern Syrian town of Ras al-Ain unload wheat from trucks, as seen from the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, November 26, 2012.
Smoke rises from damaged wheat sacks after Syrian Air Force fighter jets fired missiles at the town of Ras al-Ain, Syria, November 26, 2012.
Residents walk near debris from damaged buildings after shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at Daria near Damascus, Syria, November 26, 2012.
Free Syrian Army fighters are seen in Daria near Damascus, Syria, November 25, 2012.