The research firm Renesys reported this morning that Syria’s international Internet connection effectively shut down starting at 12:26 p.m. local time (5:26 a.m. eastern time) Thursday. The firm earlier estimated that 92 percent of all routed networks in the country were offline. Its latest report, however, says that “all 84 of Syria's IP address blocks have become unreachable, effectively removing the country from the Internet.” The AP is reporting that a second U.S.-based Internet-monitoring firm, Akamai, also shows Syria entirely offline.
Meanwhile, scattered reports via Twitter suggest that some of the country’s landline and cell phone connections may also be experiencing problems, though that has not been confirmed. An AP report earlier this morning cited anti-government activists blaming the government for the shutdown. It noted that “the government has previously cut phone lines and Internet access in areas where regime forces are conducting major military operations.” But a total shutdown is unprecedented.
As I write this, major Syria-based sites such as that of the government-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) are indeed unreachable.
Assuming that the government is behind the blackout, it’s a scary time for opponents of the brutal Bashar al-Assad regime, which might take such a step in preparation for a particularly bloody military crackdown. But it also stinks of desperation: The doomed regimes in Egypt and Libya took similar steps during the revolutions in those countries last year.
UPDATE, 11:08 a.m.: Reuters links the shutdown to intense clashes between government and rebel forces along the main road to the Damascus airport, which is now closed. Fighting is "heavier in that area than at any other time in the conflict," Reuters reports, with the government bringing in army reinforcements as the rebels advance toward the airport, perhaps in a bid to thwart the import of military equipment.
The Reuters story also contains this ominous line: "A Syrian security source told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the army had started a 'cleansing operation' in the capital to confront rebel advances."