Saturday, June 4, 2011

Internet Service Mostly Restored in Syria

Internet services were mostly restored across Syria on Saturday, after being cut off Friday in the country's largest cities, including Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama.

Much of Syria's street movement has been documented through accounts and camera-phone videos posted online.

Early Friday morning, about two-thirds of all Syrian networks had been cut off from the global Internet, according to Renesys Corp., a firm in Manchester, N.H., that studies Internet traffic flows. Blocked networks included high-speed data connections for mobile phones used by ordinary citizens. Websites of the Syrian oil ministry and the government-owned telecommunications monopoly weren't affected, according to Renesys.

A Syrian government-backed website confirmed the Internet had been shut down. The move came in contrast to Syria's decision in February to lift its 2007 ban on social networking sites, which allowed people to access websites including Facebook and YouTube for the first time without proxies.

Regimes in Egypt, Libya and Bahrain have tried to gain the upper hand over the recent, fast-moving demonstrations by unplugging or partially blocking the Internet. In some cases, most notably in Egypt, the action appeared to heighten the unrest by prompting more angry protesters into the streets.

"You are reaching a point of no return when you do this kind of stuff," said Earl Zmijewski, a Renesys vice president.

On Saturday afternoon, as activists began uploading videos from protests inside Syria, a barrage of scenes from the city of Hama—where protests were the largest and bloodiest on Friday—circulated online on social networking sites. One video uploaded onto YouTube shows huge crowds chanting "The people want the downfall of the regime" before gunfire breaks out, crowds scatter and men start dragging bodies through the streets. A video of a protest in Deraa, the southern cradle of Syria's uprising, shows protesters burning Russian, Chinese, and Iranian flags. The positions of Russia and China are holding back a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the violence in Syria. Iran, meanwhile, is a key ally of Mr. Assad and is purported to be supporting his regime's crackdown on protesters.

Activists on Saturday said some people were killed during funeral processions in Jisr al-Shaghour, near the city of Idlib, where large protests broke out yesterday and at least two people were killed. The activists did not have names to confirm the number of people killed.

Also on Saturday, a prominent opposition figure, Ali Abdullah, was released from prison, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Mr. Abdullah, a member of the Damascus Declaration opposition group, was jailed in 2007 on charges of weakening national sentiment. Around 100 political prisoners have been released since Mr. Assad announced a general amnesty earlier this week, according to rights activists, who see the move as a last-ditch effort by the regime to appease protesters rather than a sign of real reform.

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