Syria shuts off internet access across the country

by Martin Chulov, The Guardian  |  published on November 30, 2012

Syrian officials shut down nationwide internet access on Thursday and closed Damascus airport as rebels mounted offensives nearby and tried to advance on the capital from four directions. Phone networks were also crippled in much of the country, causing fear and confusion on both sides and fuelling claims that a new rebel push was gaining momentum.

Syria’s information minister blamed “terrorists” for the outage, but the communications shutdown was seen as an attempt to stymie rebel moves as militias try to co-ordinate an assault on Damascus. It was also thought to be aimed at thwarting any plans for advances in other towns and cities.

Opposition groups have also been advancing in northern Syria, particularly near the second city, Aleppo, where the downing of two regime aircraft with surface to air missiles this week has given impetus to a rebel campaign that had become a series of attritional battles.

While officials have frequently shut down internet and mobile phone access to opposition-held areas since the uprising began in March 2011, sometimes for weeks at a time, they have never before cut web and voice communications nationwide.

Soon after noon on Thursday, all 84 of Syria’s ISP address blocks were unreachable, web specialists Renesys said. Five ISP addresses did continue to function. Renesys analysts said they were used to deliver malware to anti-regime activists earlier this year, a fact that would appear to link the addresses to the government.

Landline phones began to slowly come back on line later in the day.

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