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Syrian net access falls down some stairs, doing OK now

Assad regime blames cable fire. No one believes them

Syria has been reconnected to the world following a suspicious 19-hour internet blackout in the troubled nation.

News that access to the worldwide web had collapsed in the civil-war-torn country began circulating on Tuesday. It appeared the systems passing internet traffic in and out of the Middle East territory withdrew their networking routes - like a castle pulling up its drawbridge and erasing its location from the world's maps.

The outage was widely interpreted as a sign that the government was planning a military operation - either against Syrian rebels or a retaliation strike against its southwest neighbour Israel. A convoy allegedly carrying missiles bound for Shiite Hezbollah militants had earlier come under attack from Israeli forces: Hezbollah are long-time foes of Israel and strong allies of President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime.

Internet services were restored yesterday at about 1430 GMT, or 1730 local time, according to monitoring company Renesys. Google also noticed the outage and subsequent return of services, which is vividly depicted in a series of graphs that show internet access abruptly falling off a cliff.

State-backed media claimed the shutdown was caused by a "fault in optical fibre cables".

David Belson, of Akamai, a content delivery network, rubbished this claim.

"Our monitoring shows that Syria's international internet connectivity is through at least four providers, and published submarine cable maps show connectivity through three active cables," he said.

"As such, the failure of a single optical cable is unlikely to cause a complete internet outage for the country."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, warned that without the internet, any crimes committed by government troops and rebel forces would go unnoticed.

The group released a statement which said:

We're deeply concerned that this blackout is a deliberate attempt to silence Syria's online communications and further draw a curtain over grave events currently unfolding on the ground in Syria.

While heavily censored, monitored and compromised, the internet has served as an important window connecting the world at large to Syria, and one way that international observers could connect with individuals on the ground in that country.

A number of activists on the ground in Syria have access to internet via satellite links, which can connect them to the internet but carries a high risk for detection, which can be life-threatening.

News of the outage was spread using the Twitter hashtag #syriablackout. Mobile and fixed line telephone networks remained intact throughout the blackout.

On Tuesday, Dan Hubbard, chief technology officer of Umbrella Security Labs, wrote: "Effectively, the shutdown disconnects Syria from internet communication with the rest of the world. It’s unclear whether internet communication within Syria is still available.

"Although we can’t yet comment on what caused this outage, past incidents were linked to both government-ordered shutdowns and damage to the infrastructure, which included fiber cuts and power outages." ®

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