Syria blacks out internet as airport battle rages

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The Syrian government shut down the internet across the country yesterday and cut mobile and fixed-line services in some areas as rebels and government troops waged fierce battles near Damascus airport, forcing international airlines to suspend flights, activists said.

The blackout, confirmed by two US-based companies that monitor online connectivity, is unprecedented in Syria’s 20-month-old uprising against president Bashar al-Assad. Regime forces have suffered a string of tactical defeats in recent weeks, losing air bases and other strategic facilities, and pulling the plug on the internet may be an attempt by the government to dull any additional offensives by hampering communications.

Syrian state TV denied the blackout was nationwide. It said the outage was cause by a technical failure, only affected some provinces and that technicians were trying to fix the problem.

Renesys, a US-based network security firm that studies internet disruptions, said: “All 84 of Syria’s IP address blocks have become unreachable, effectively removing the country from the internet.”

Yesterday, opposition fighters were battling government troops near the capital’s international airport, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, forcing the military to shut the road to the airport.

The Syrian information ministry said later that the airport road was secure after attacks by “terrorist groups” on motorists. It was not immediately clear whether the road had been 

Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory, who relies on a network of activists throughout Syria, said large convoys of government reinforcements were seen heading in the direction of the airport.