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Syria loses Internet, a sign an offensive brews

– Internet service went down Thursday across Syria and international flights were canceled at the Damascus airport when a road near the facility was closed by heavy fighting in the country’s civil war.

Activists said President Bashar Assad’s regime pulled the plug on the Internet, perhaps in preparation for a major offensive. Cellphone service also went out in Damascus and parts of central Syria, they said. The government blamed rebel fighters for the outages.

With pressure building against the regime on several fronts and government forces on their heels in the battle for the northern commercial hub of Aleppo, rebels have recently begun pushing back into Damascus after largely being driven out of the capital after a July offensive. One Damascus resident reported seeing rebel forces near a suburb of the city previously deemed to be safe from fighting.

The Internet outage, confirmed by two American companies that monitor online connectivity, is unprecedented in Syria’s 20-month-old uprising against Assad, which activists say has killed more than 40,000 people.

Regime forces suffered a string of tactical defeats in recent weeks, losing air bases and other strategic facilities. The government may be trying to blunt additional rebel offensives by hampering communications.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned what she called the regime’s “assault” on Syrians’ ability to communicate with each other and express themselves. She said the move spoke to a desperate attempt by Assad to cling to power.

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