DAMASCUS: Fighting raged around Damascus on Friday as Internet and phone links in Syria remained cut for a second day and rebels consolidated gains in the east, capturing an oil field near the Iraqi border.
Meanwhile, UN leader Ban Ki-moon predicted that Syrian refugee numbers will surge to more than 700,000 by January as the country's conflict reaches "appalling heights of brutality."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the road from the capital to Damascus airport had reopened, a day after fighting during which a bus carrying airport employees was hit by a shell, killing two people.
And the 27-kilometre (17-mile) road remained perilous. Unknown attackers fired at a UN convoy leaving the airport for the second day in a row, a UN spokesman said, adding that there were no casualties.
On Thursday, four Austrian soldiers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force for the Golan Heights were wounded when a convoy heading for the airport was attacked.
Air traffic resumed on Friday, and the airport road was reopened after a night of heavy clashes between rebels and troops in the area, airport sources said.
But warplanes pounded the northeastern town of Irbin amid shelling of orchards in the south of the capital, all opposition strongholds where rebels have rear bases, it added.
At least 16 civilians were killed in an army offensive and clashes around Damascus on Friday, including near the airport road and in Daraya to the southwest, the Observatory said.
A military source in Damascus said the army had taken control of the western side of the road leading to the airport and a small portion on the east by dawn, allowing travellers to move through.
"But the most difficult part is yet to come. The army wants to take control of the eastern side, where there are thousands of terrorists and this will take several days," he said, using the regime term for rebel fighters.
The army, meanwhile, withdrew from Omar oil field, one of the last regime positions east of Deir Ezzor city near the Iraqi border, giving rebels control over the country's major fields.
Rebels last week gained a huge stretch of territory east of Deir Ezzor city, now the largest outside government control.