Syrian Internet Connections Cut for Second Day

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Correction Appended

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Activists in Syria reported on Friday that Internet connections were cut for a second successive day, fanning speculation among opponents of President Bashar al-Assad about the government's intentions in coming days.

But some supporters of the rebels seeking Mr. Assad's overthrow in the country's bloody civil war said they could bypass the blackout on Internet servers by using satellite communications.

"Generally speaking, in Idlib we haven't had an Internet connection or working landlines since the very beginning of the uprising," said Ahmad Kadour, an activist in the northern province of Idlib. "Right now, the Internet is not working in any part of Syria, but most activists use satellite Internet connections and own satellite phones, so all is well. This operation won't affect activists' work much."

However, a sniper for the Free Syrian Army calling himself Abu Bakr said via Skype that while rebels in Homs had a satellite Internet connection, they had no satellite phones, and were having trouble communicating with each other. "We're relying on very basic hand-held devices that the regime could tap to communicate with our people in Jobar," he said, referring to a neighborhood of Homs, "but we also need to be in touch with activists in other neighborhoods, and that's the problem we're facing."

"We are under the the regime's siege and airstrikes, and now the regime is tightening the siege and isolating us further," he said. "But we're trying to manage. What can we do? We won't give up."

Despite the Internet blackout on Thursday, people outside the country could still access Syrian government Web sites for much of the day because they were hosted in foreign countries, including the United States. After being contacted by The New York Times on Thursday, several host companies said they were taking down those sites, including those for the Syrian state news agency, SANA; the Syrian General Authority for Development; and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. All three were down on Friday.

On Thursday, Syria lost two major links with the outside world as the largest commercial airport in the capital canceled flights because of fighting nearby and the disappearance of Internet access, perhaps signaling an impending escalation by the government against the uprising.

The disruption at the airport, Damascus International -- a crucial conduit for supplies, money and weapons for the government -- was a measure of how intense the conflict has become around the capital in recent weeks. As security forces launched a major counteroffensive against rebels nearby, the government's willingness to carry out military operations in the area suggested that it was feeling the pressure of rebel advances. Keeping the airport open helps the government project a sense of normalcy, and the interruption of service creates problems, activists said, because the large planes needed for supplies cannot land at smaller military airports. News reports from Syria on Friday offered confused accounts of the fighting, quoting activists as saying that the main road to the Damascus airport had reopened after intense clashes in the early hours, in which rebel forces destroyed government vehicles.

A reporter for The Associated Press said Damascus was largely quiet, although there were sounds of fighting in the suburbs -- a report corroborated by a Reuters dispatch quoting Damascus residents as saying black smoke could be seen from the east and south of the city, with the constant sound of shelling.

Reuters also said government forces used airstrikes against rebel targets near the road leading to the airport, while a regional flight operator said civilian flights were not landing there on Friday. for a second day.

On Thursday, two companies that monitor Internet traffic, Arbor Networks and Akamai, released data demonstrating that the Internet went out across the country around 10 a.m. The Internet has been a strategic tool of the uprising and the government alike, allowing activists to organize and communicate but also exposing them to surveillance. Videos uploaded by both sides have made the conflict extraordinarily visible to the outside world.

Rebels have put the government under increasing pressure in recent weeks, taking oil fields in eastern Syria and a major air base near Aleppo, and demonstrating their growing ability to shoot down aircraft.

On Thursday, several airlines said they had halted flights to Damascus. An official at EgyptAir said it had indefinitely suspended flights because of the security situation there, though morning flights to the northern city of Aleppo were operating.

"They've turned it into a military airport lately," said AlBaraa Abdul Rahman, 27, an activist in the Damascus suburbs, adding that rebels had recently captured 40 pro-government militiamen in ambushes on the airport road. "Helicopters and warplanes land there, and Russian and Iranian experts travel through it."

Speaking via Skype, which he said he was using with a satellite connection, Mr. Abdul Rahman said fighters with the Free Syrian Army were battling government forces about a mile from the airport. "It's a hit-and-run kind of battle," he said. "The Free Syrian Army is using mortar shells without getting close to the airport, which the regime is firmly gripping now."

Hania Mourtada and Anne Barnard reported from Beirut, Lebanon, and Hala Droubi from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Kareem Fahim and Mai Ayyad contributed reporting from Cairo, Christine Hauser and Amy Chozick from New York, and Alan Cowell from London.

Correction: November 30, 2012, Friday

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article reversed the given name and surname of an activist in the Damascus suburbs who said rebels had recently captured 40 pro-government militiamen, and misspelled his given name. He is AlBaara Abdul Rahman, not Abdul Rahman al-Barra.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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