BEIRUT The Syrian government shut down the Internet across the country and cut cell-phone services in select areas Thursday as rebels and government troops waged fierce battles near the capital’s airport, wounding two Austrian peacekeepers and forcing international airlines to suspend flights, activists said.
The blackout, confirmed by two U.S-based companies that monitor online connectivity, is unprecedented in Syria’s 20-month-old uprising against President Bashar 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 rebel offensives by hampering communications.
Syrian state TV denied the blackout was nationwide. It said the outage was cause by a technical failure, affected only some provinces and that technicians were trying to fix the problem.
Authorities often cut phone lines and Internet access in select areas where regime forces are conducting major military operations to disrupt rebel communications. Activists in Syria reached Thursday by satellite telephone confirmed the blackout.
Renesys, a U.S.-based network security firm that studies Internet disruptions, said in a statement that Syria effectively disappeared from the Internet at 12:26 p.m. local time.