Syrian internet and mobile phone communications remain offline for a third straight day with the exception of Damascus coming back online this morning. Activist and human rights monitors equipped with satellite phones which are not reliant on cell phone towers, are still able to communicate from within Syria. But ordinary citizens are unable to call for emergency services due to both the suspension of cell phone services as well as the war damage to land line telephone infrastructure in Syria.
Both Google and Twitter have reactivated a voice-tweet program last used when the internet was shut down during the Egyptian uprising which eventually brought down the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. The Assad regime’s websites are hosted in foreign countries, including the United States and remain online. The blackout affecting Syria’s routed networks was applied to Syria’s 84 local ISP address blocks effectively removing the entire country from the internet.
Airline officials in Dubai are reporting that Damascus airspace is now closed and is not accepting any flights as clashes occur near the main airport between rebels and government troops. Most airlines had already cut back or canceled flights to Damascus indefinitely several months ago, with only two regional airlines in the area making flights infrequently. Only a handful of flights a day appear on flight schedules reflecting Damascus as a destination. Reports are making it out of clouds of smoke in the south-east of the city and a non-stop sound of fighter jets and helicopters overhead.
Rebel tactics had previously been concentrated on ‘hit and run’ tactics only, out of fear that the Syrian Air Force would bomb to dust any base the rebels attempted to hold. However, over the last several weeks rebels have enjoyed tactical successes. Capturing several and now holding some military bases while forcing government troops to retreat.
One key success in the Aleppo region of Syria was the capture of the main garrison base and home of the Syrian 46th Regiment, bringing rebels in Aleppo one step closer to linking up with their comrades in neighboring Idlib Province. This success was quickly followed by the fall of the Syrian artillery base at Mayadin after a three week siege. Mayadin was the last major bastion of Assad’s forces in the eastern region bordering Iraq. A military air base had already been seized the previous week in the region.
On the battle front facing Damascus rebels captured the Marj-al-Sultan Air Base to the east of the city, home to the Syrian fleet of Mi-8 helicopters; the supply workhorses supporting Syrian Army units in the north and east of Syria. Ground supply routes to both areas had already been cut off. The highway to Aleppo from Damascus is under rebel control and the final step to severing supplies to government forces in Aleppo is capturing the city’s airport; already surrounded on three sides by rebel troops.
These new successes by the rebels leave Damascus and Assad’s home province of Latakia as the last large strongholds held by Assad’s forces with only a narrow corridor running through Homs and Hama connecting the two. It is this sinking of fortunes which most likely led to the decision to sever cell phone and internet services in Syria. Not so much to impede rebel communications as to keep Assad loyalists in Latakia and Damascus from finding out about the devastating defeats now taking place. There is also the possibility that Assad is on the move within Syria, relocating to a more secure area and the blackout is to snuff out any reports of such movements.