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Syria cut off from the Internet, activists and monitors report

November 29, 2012|By Emily Alpert
  • A graphic produced by the U.S. Internet monitoring company Akamai illustrates the observed drop in Web traffic to Syria on Thursday.
A graphic produced by the U.S. Internet monitoring company Akamai illustrates… (Akamai )

The Internet has been shut off across Syria, monitors and opposition activists reported Thursday as fighting raged between government troops and rebels on the main road between Damascus and its international airport.

Smaller outages have occurred in the past, but this time all of Syria in effect has been removed from the Internet, U.S.-based monitoring firm Renesys said. The blockage began shortly after noon Thursday.

“We are investigating the dynamics of the outage and will post updates as they become available,” Renesys wrote on its website.

The sweeping shutdown alarmed opposition activists, who reported cellular networks and telephone lines were also cut in much of Damascus and its suburbs, as well as a smattering of other areas including Hama, Homs, Dara and Dair Alzour.

In Dara, the Internet had been cut since Wednesday, but people were close enough to the Jordanian border to pick up coverage from there, opposition activist Thaer Abdullah said. Cellphone service was also blocked for MTN carriers, one of two companies in Syria, he said.

"This is the first time in the history of the revolution the Internet gets cut like this," he said.

In Homs and its suburbs, there was "no Internet and no electricity," said activist Mohamad Homsi. "Just satellite and generators."

Dissidents feared the Internet blackout foreshadowed a new wave of attacks by government forces. The Local Coordination Committees opposition activist network declared it would “hold the regime responsible for any massacres that would be committed in any Syrian cities after such a move was made.”

The network urged Syrians to try connecting to the Internet through dial-up service, offering several numbers, a user number and passwords. In the central city of Hama, Local Coordination Committee activist Mousab Alhamadee wasn't affected because he uses a satellite phone to connect, like most of the opposition activists across the country.

"Assad killed 48,000 people, so he's not going to stop at cutting the Internet," he said.

Renesys reported that a few Syrian networks were still connected to the Internet, possibly through an offshore system “not subject to whatever kill switch was thrown today within Syria.” The surviving servers included several that were implicated in a spyware attack on opposition activists in May.

Flights were reportedly cancelled as rebels and government forces battled on the road between the Syrian capital and its airport. The Dubai-based Emirates airline told Reuters it had suspended its daily flights to Damascus "until further notice."

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A Times staff writer in Amman contributed to this report.

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