As Syria’s Internet and phone blackout goes into its second day, fears are building that Syrians who have relied on smartphones, YouTube and social networks throughout the two-year uprising will be cut off from their primary methods of communication.
In this Nov. 29, 2012 photo, night falls on a Syrian rebel-controlled area as destroyed buildings are seen on Sa’ar street after airstrikes targeted the area last week, killing dozens in Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Narciso Contreras)
Though the rebels and the Syrian government blamed each other for the prolonged outage, most technology experts believe Syrian authorities caused the blackout to try to impede the rebels’ interactions and online broadcasts of the fighting.
Rob Faris, research director at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society,told the Huffington Post that the Syrian authorities likely tweaked routing tables, essentially re-mapping where Internet addresses lead and thereby blocking the transference of information.
The tech blog Cloudflare also speculates that the blackout was deliberate, rather than caused by a technical failure, as Syrian authorities have said.
“While we cannot know for sure, our network team estimates that Syria likely has a small number of edge routers. All the edge routers are controlled by Syrian Telecommunications. The systematic way in which routes were withdrawn suggests that this was done through updates in router configurations, not through a physical failure or cable cut.”
Some are trying to find loopholes around the outage. Protesters in the town of Kafranbel used a satellite connection to post video of a demonstration.
And in Damascus, activists were able to circumvent the outage to upload videos of bombings by Syrian air force jets to YouTube:
Meanwhile, Google is promoting its Speak2Tweet product, which allows those who still have a phone connection to leave voice messages that the company will then tweet. In a release, Google said the servicewas successfully used during Egypt’s protests last year.
According to Web monitoring firm Renesys, some Syrian servers have survived the outage because they are located offshore. Renesys also has an interesting map of the three submarine connections to Syria, as well as a chart showing that until Thursday’s outage, Syrian Internet had been almost completely stable:
Internet freedom advocates warned that the consequences of the blackout could be devastating.
Middle east blogger Karl Sharro pointed out on Twitter that the Syrian government’s attack on the city of Hama in 1982 was preceded by communication disruptions.
Throughout the current conflict, the Syrian government has occasionally shut down Internet services in specific regions right before launching attacks. On at least two other occasions, the outages were national in scope, The Washington Post reported.
Global hacking collective Anonymous said it would shut down Syrian government sites around the world in response to the blackout. Reuters reported:
Anonymous, a loose affiliation of hacking groups that opposes Internet censorship, said it will remove from the Internet all web assets belonging to Assad’s government that are outside Syria, starting with embassies.
By 1000 GMT on Friday, the website for Syria’s embassy in Belgium was down but the embassy in China – which Anonymous said it would target first – was operating. Most government ministry websites were down although this could be due to the blackout.
Human rights group Amnesty International wrote in a blog post that the outage might stifle any news of atrocities in Syria:
Palestinians have partied well into the night after the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to recognise Palestine as a non-member state.
The 193-member assembly voted 138-9 with 41 abstentions for the resolution which enables the Palestinians to join UN agencies and sign international treaties.
A Palestinian flag was quickly unfurled on the floor of the General Assembly, behind the Palestinian delegation.
Israel and the United States were joined by Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau in opposing the vote, with US United Nations ambassador Susan Rice saying Palestinians "will wake up to find little has changed".
"Today's unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path of peace," Rice said.
The US urged Israel and the Palestinian Authorities to return to direct talks without preconditions.
The vote, however, was greeted with celebration in the Palestinian Territories.
Palestinians during a rally supporting the Palestinian bid for recognition as a non-member state. Photo / AP
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds crowded into the main square waved Palestinian flags and chanted "God is great".
Aucklander Frank Ritchie, education and advocacy manager for TEAR Fund, was at The Wall (dubbed the "Security Fence" by the Israelis) near Bethlehem on the West Bank at the time of the vote.
"As the General Assembly started, about 10pm our time, someone had it projecting onto The Wall. There were big speakers there, the Israeli soldiers were watching from their guard tower, you could see them peering over to make sure nothing went wrong. So everybody was watching it as it happened," Mr Ritchie said.
"We were there, right in the middle of the party, flags waving, music, dancing, everybody was having a great time."
Iran shuts schools, offices in capital due to high pollution
The Milad communications tower is seen through pollution in Tehran December 8, 2010.
Credit: Reuters/Caren Firouz
DUBAI | Mon Dec 3, 2012 11:00am EST
(Reuters) - Schools, universities and government offices will be closed in Iran's capital Tehran on Tuesday and Wednesday because of high air pollution, the state news agency reported on Monday.
Tehran's governor Morteza Tamadon said hospitals and banks would remain open, however, but told residents to avoid unnecessary travel, IRNA news agency reported.
Levels of pollution caused mainly by vehicle fumes have risen in the past few days in Tehran and some other big cities. The problem is worst in the capital because of its location wedged between two mountains where polluted air becomes trapped.
IRNA said schools and universities in Arak, main city of the western Markazi province, had been closed on Monday and would remain shut on Tuesday.