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Syrian capital, south hit by blackout

| Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, 7:57 p.m.

DAMASCUS — A power outage plunged Damascus and southern Syria into darkness late Saturday, Syria's state news agency said, while anti-regime activists reported a string of tit-for-tat, sectarian kidnappings in the country's north.

The news agency, SANA, quoted Electricity Minister Imad Khamis as saying that the failure of a high-voltage line had left the nation's south without power.

The blackout affected Syria's capital, Damascus, and the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, which abut the Jordan border.

An Associated Press reporter in Damascus reported dark streets across the capital. A fuel shortage makes it hard for residents to run backup generators.

A similar blackout struck Damascus and southern Syria on Jan. 20, leaving many residents with no way to heat their homes on a cold winter night. The government blamed that outage on a rebel attack, and power was restored to most areas on the following day.

The Syrian capital's 2.5 million residents have grown used to frequent power outages as the country's conflict has damaged infrastructure and sapped the government's finances.

Meanwhile, anti-regime activists reported a string of kidnappings in recent days that have inflamed tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslim villages that back opposite sides in the nation's civil war.

The activists differed on the number kidnapped from both sides, with reports ranging from a few dozen to more than 300.

The abductions point to the dark sectarian overtones of Syria's civil war, which pits a predominantly Sunni Muslim rebellion against a regime dominated by President Bashar Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The country is also home to Christian, Kurdish, Armenian and Shiite communities, all of whom have been swept up in the conflict.

The kidnappings took place between two Shiite villages in the northern Idlib province and a number of Sunni villages that surround them.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 42 Shiites, including mainly women and children, were snatched on Thursday from a bus that was traveling from the Shiite villages of Foua and Kfarya to the capital Damascus. Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said it was not clear who took them, adding that Shiites have refused to give the names of those kidnapped or details about the make or color of the bus.

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