Internet service goes out across Syria
DAMASCUS — Internet service went down on Thursday across Syria, and international flights were canceled at the Damascus airport when a road near the facility was closed by heavy fighting in the country's civil war.
Activists said President Bashar Assad's regime pulled the plug on the Internet, perhaps in preparation for a major offensive. Cellphone service also went out in Damascus and parts of central Syria, they said.
The government blamed rebel fighters for the outages.
With pressure building against the regime on several fronts and government forces on their heels in the battle for the northern commercial hub of Aleppo, rebels have recently begun pushing back into Damascus after largely being driven out of the capital by a July offensive.
One Damascus resident reported seeing rebel forces near a suburb of the city previously deemed safe from fighting.
The Internet outage, confirmed by two U.S.-based companies that monitor online connectivity, is unprecedented in Syria's 20-month-old uprising against Assad, who activists say has killed more than 40,000 people.
Regime forces suffered a string of tactical defeats in recent weeks, losing air bases and other strategic facilities. The government may be trying to blunt additional rebel offensives by hampering communications.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned what she called the regime's “assault” on Syrians' ability to communicate with one another and express themselves. She said the move spoke to a desperate attempt by Assad to cling to power.
Syrian authorities often cut phone and Internet service in select areas to disrupt rebel communications when regime forces are conducting major operations.
The government sent mixed signals about the Internet outage but denied it was nationwide. The pro-regime TV station Al-Ikhbariya quoted Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi as saying that “terrorists” have targeted Internet cables, interrupting service in several cities.
Separately, state-run TV said the outage was because of a technical failure that affected some provinces, adding that technicians were trying to fix it.
Activists in Syria, reached by satellite telephones unaffected by the outage, confirmed the communications problems.
A young Syrian businessman who lives in an upscale neighborhood of Damascus, which some refer to as part of “the green zone” because it has remained relatively safe, sent a text message to an Associated Press reporter on Thursday that said the Internet had been cut in his area and that mobile phone service was cutting out.
The man said he was driving on Wednesday through the Damascus suburb of Aqraba, near the airport, and saw dozens of rebel fighters for the first time in the area, riding in pickup trucks and motorcycles and wielding AK-47s.
Their presence so close to the “green zone” may have led to the Internet's being cut, said the resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared government reprisal. He said the military was positioned a few hundred meters away from the rebel fighters and had built large speed bumps to enclose the area.
The opposition said the Internet blackout was an ominous sign that the regime was preparing a major offensive.
“I fear that cutting the Internet may be a prelude to a massacre in Damascus,” said Adib Shishakly, a Syrian opposition figure from Cairo. “The regime feels it is being choked off by rebels who are closing in on the capital from its suburbs. It's a desperate move; they are trying to sever communications between activists.”
Renesys, a U.S.-based network security firm that studies Internet disruption, said in a statement that Syria effectively disappeared from the Internet at 12:26 p.m. local time.
Jim Cowie, the chief technology officer at Renesys, said the abruptness of the outage suggested it was not because of a severed cable. Syria has several cables that connect it to the outside world, and all of them would have had to be cut at once for a complete outage. A power outage or an intentional shutdown at central Syrian telecommunications facilities is a more likely cause, he said.
“We saw everything go in three to four minutes, which looks like a light switch,” Cowie said.
Thursday's violence appeared to be focused on southern suburbs near the Damascus international airport.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates show depth in earning victory over Rockies; Polanco has big night
- Healthy, confident Steelers LB Shazier ready for full speed ahead
- Despite being suspended, Boyd still making contributions for Pitt
- Timing drives former KHL star Plotnikov
- ATI picket injured at Harrison mill
- LaBar: The upgrade of The Wyatt Family in WWE
- ‘Action’ against AG Kane sent to Supreme Court, sources say
- County police officer on leave after assault charges filed
- Pirates notebook: Catcher Cervelli among ejection leaders
- WVU sophomore linebacker Preston draws heavy praise
- Historic WWII-era landing ship tank docking at Heinz Field