Friday, 30 November 2012

Syria - communications cut

Syria cut off from internet

30 November, 2012

Communications to the outside world were cut across large parts of Syria on Thursday as battles raged close to Damascus airport and foreign airlines cancelled flights.

Mobile networks, landlines and the internet were cut in many parts of the country, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said.

The government said Syria was working to repair a breakdown in the main internet connection, state television reported, while the Information Minister denied the government was responsible and blamed "terrorists" for the disruption, Al Arabiya television reported.

But the former US director of national intelligence John McConnell said the Syrian opposition relied partly on the internet for its command-and-control capabilities, and that the Syrian government was effectively shutting those down.

"It's just so easy now to co-ordinate with mobile phones and internet platforms" and in many cases that was all that was available to the opposition, Mr McConnell said.

By shutting off the internet, the government might hurt its own communication abilities as well, he said, but it could rely on other technologies, including older microwave technology. "They are hurting themselves to some extent but the government has other options."

All internet traffic in and out of Syria was shut down without warning at 12.26pm local time on Thursday (9.26pm AEST), according to Renesys, a web monitoring company based in New Hampshire.

"In the global routing table, all 84 of Syria's IP address blocks have become unreachable, effectively removing the country from the internet," Renesys said in a blog.

Syrian forces and rebels engaged in heavy fighting near the main airport in Damascus, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Emirates and EgyptAir both cancelled flights to and from Syria.

Austria's defence ministry said two of its soldiers assigned to the United Nations force in the Golan Heights had been wounded as they approached the airport. Their injuries were not serious, it said.

Syria's 20-month civil war has resulted in at least 40,000 deaths, the Observatory says, and rises by about 150 a day as opposition forces seek to oust the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

US accelerates intervention in Syrian war

The US government is contemplating significant intervention in the Syria conflict and has discussed employing Patriot Air and Missile Defense Systems in Turkey and directly providing arms to opposition fighters.

AFP Photo / Jack Guez
30 November, 2012

In an attempt to defeat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, government officials told the New York Times that the US might bring its military resources to the region for either intimidation purposes or direct use in Syria.
NATO will likely decide next week whether or not to deploy surface-to-air Patriot missiles in Turkey, which would serve to protect the country from potential Syrian missiles that could contain chemical weapons, as well as intimidate Syrian Air Force pilots from bombing the northern Syria border towns.

The armed rebels currently control much of Northwest Syria along the border of Turkey, making the border a likely conflict zone should Syrian missiles be implemented.

Although State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Patriot missile system would not be used beyond the Turkish border, military sources told Israeli news service DEBKAthat all of northern Syria – including Aleppo and Homs – would become controlled by the Turkish-NATO team.

The US has so far hesitated to intervene on the ground in Syria, fearing the risks would be too great for their own soldiers and could worsen the conflict. But 18 months after the start of the civil war, intervention has increasingly entered the US radar.

The administration has figured out that if they don’t start doing something, the war will be over and they won’t have any influence over the combat forces on the ground,” former Defense Intelligence Agency officer told the New York Times. “They may have some influence with various political groups and factions, but they won’t have influence with the fighters, and the fighters will control the territory.”

The US has so far provided nearly $200 million in humanitarian aid, but has not intervened militarily. But US officials believe the administration is now considering providing arms to the opposition groups. CIA officers located in Turkey have already determined which groups should receive such weapons, but have emphasized the difficulty of preventing them from falling into the wrong hands.

The Obama administration is also preparing to recognize Syria’s new opposition council as the official representation of Syria, likely during a Dec. 12 “Friends of Syria” conference in Morocco which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend, the Associated Press reports. The recognition will likely spur further US involvement in the conflict – if not militarily, then it will at least draw more humanitarian aid. Britain, France and several Arab countries allied with the US have already recognized the council as Syria’s sole representative.
But while the idea of providing arms may be considered, many still believe it to be a bad idea.

Arms are not a strategy; arms are a tactic,” US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said during a conference in Washington. “A military solution is not the best way for Syria. Efforts to win this by conquering one side or the other will simply prolong the violence and actually aggravate an already terrible humanitarian situation. Syria needs a political solution.”

The US government has not made any official announcements that it was considering providing weapons, but the Congressional officials and diplomats told the Times that a decision would likely be made after Obama selects his new national security team.

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