Internet and mobile phones have been disrupted in Syria, effectively removing the country from the internet.
Local reports suggested that the internet had been down since early afternoon, and that telephone lines were only working intermittently. The Syrian government has blamed “terrorists” for the disconnection.
“It is not true that the state cut the Internet. The terrorists targeted the Internet lines, resulting in some regions being cut off,” a Syrian state official said on state TV. He also said that work is underway to repair the damage.
Renesys, a US-based company which tracks internet connectivity worldwide, said on its blog: “In the global routing table, all 84 of Syria’s IP address blocks have become unreachable.” According to its systems, access was disconnected at 12:26pm local time (10:26 GMT).
In Washington, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland condemned what she called a desperate move by a desperate regime.
“The regime does appear to be resorting to cutting off all kinds of communications – cellular networks, land lines as well as Internet service across the country, notably in Damascus and the suburbs as well as in Hama, Homs and Tartus,” she said.
Nuland said that despite the blackout, opposition groups should be able to communicate with the outside world thanks to U.S.-provided communication kits that allow contact through outside proxys.
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said in a Washington appearance that the Internet blackout is not entirely surprising. He said Syria’s government has long been using Iranian expertise to monitor the web to “track opposition activists, to arrest and kill them.”
Ford said he fears the shutdown is an attempt by the Syrian government to further its brutal crackdown of dissent and keep the world from finding out.
Activists and authorities in Syria told the AP on Thursday that cell phone networks and landlines were also unavailable in parts of the capital.
“The government has previously cut phone lines and Internet access in areas where regime forces are conducting major military operations,” reports the AP. Syrian rebel fighters fired mortars at the runways of Damascus international airport on Thursday and are blocking the road leading to the capital, a rebel fighter said.
The account by a Jund Allah brigade fighter, who uses the name Abu Omar, could not be immediately verified. Speaking by telephone, he told Reuters his fighters were not inside the airport but were able to block access in and out of it.
Abu Omar, who said he was with fighters from Jund Allah and two other Islamist brigades close to the airport, said the mortar fire had damaged the runways.
“No one can come in or out of the airport,” he added.
Activists earlier said the airport road had been closed by fighting.
Dubai’s Emirates airline said it was suspending flights to Damascus with immediate effect and Egypt Air said it had cancelled its Friday flight because of the “deteriorating situation” around the airport.
During the uprising in Egypt, four major internet service providers were cut off in the country during mass protests against the then-President Hosni Mubarak. Egyptians quickly found ways around the blocks, and Google introduced a “speak-to-tweet” service which allowed people to connect to Twitter via the telephone.