Two U.S.-based Internet-monitoring companies say Syria has shut off the Internet nationwide.
Activists in Syria reached Thursday by satellite telephone confirmed the unprecedented blackout, which comes amid intense fighting in the capital, Damascus.
Renesys, a U.S.-based network security firm that studies Internet disruptions, says Syria effectively disappeared from the Internet at 12:26 p.m. local time.
Akamai, one of the firms which monitors global traffic, said traffic stopped from 1026 GMT, and that this supports the observation from another IT firm, Renesys, “that Syria is effectively off the Internet.”
However, Syria’s minister of information said that “terrorists,” not the state, were responsible for a countrywide Internet outage on Thursday, a pro-government TV station said.
“It is not true that the state cut the Internet. The terrorists targeted the Internet lines, resulting in some regions being cut off,” he was quoted by al-Ikhbariya as saying.
State TV quoted the telecommunications minister as saying that engineers were working to repair what he said was a fault in the main communications and Internet cable.
Syria has partially cut Internet connections during the 20-month uprising against President Bashar Assad but a nationwide shutdown is unprecedented.
Syrian troops Thursday evening launched a major offensive in southeastern Damascus along the airport road, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, after earlier reporting the route had been closed.
The army attacked rebel strongholds in a string of towns along the highway and near the airport, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by phone. State media also reported operations in the area.
According to activists, sudden communication cuts regularly occur before major military offensives.
Later on Thursday evening, The Damascus airport road was reportedly “secured” after military intervention, state television quoted the information ministry as saying.
“The road from the airport was secured after attacks by armed terrorist groups against cars and after a deployment of the competent forces,” the TV said, using the standard regime term the country’s rebels.
A security official in Damascus said the operation began at 10:00 am (0800 GMT).
“The army burned the orchards to the south and southeast of the capital to dislodge the rebels. Substantial military reinforcements have been deployed,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington had received reports from opposition sources on the ground that cell networks, landlines and Internet links had been cut across the country.
“Obviously, we condemn this latest assault on the Syrian people’s ability to express themselves and communicate with each other and it just, again, speaks to the kind of desperation of the regime as it tries to cling to power,” she said.
Nuland added, however, that some 2,000 communications sets supplied to the opposition rebels over the past months as part of a U.S. non-lethal assistance program were not affected by the blackout.
Egyptian airliner, EgyptAir, on Thursday canceled its flight to the Syrian capital on Friday, citing unrest surrounding the Damascus airport.
Dubai’s carrier Emirates Airlines also said it suspended flights to Damascus on Thursday, as Syrian authorities reportedly blocked the airport road due to clashes in nearby suburbs.
“Emirates has suspended all flights to and from Damascus effective immediately and until further notice,” a spokesperson for the company said.
“Emirates apologizes for any inconvenience caused to its customers. However the safety of our passengers and crew is of the highest priority and will not be compromised,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, an air strike Thursday on three buildings in Syria’s war-torn commercial capital Aleppo killed at least 15 civilians, including five children and two women, a monitoring group said.
The raid on the district of Ansari in the southwest of the city also left 20 people wounded, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which released videos showing the casualties and extensive damage caused in the area.
The area was hit with barrel bombs dropped from the air, activists said.
In one video posted on YouTube by activists, a group of men can be seen digging furiously by hand, only to lift the lifeless body of a child from below the dusty rubble, his head limp on his chest.
The facades of the towering surrounding buildings, located in a rebel-held area of Ansari, are completely blown out.
Another video shows the youngest victims -- four children shrouded in blankets and laid together on the floor of a dim room, one of them a baby.
One activist rushes to the scene by bicycle, filming on his way. He arrives to the dust-filled haze of the district, which he identifies as Zibdiyeh neighborhood to the east of Ansari, to find a young boy lying covered in dust.
The videos could not be immediately verified.