BEIRUT -- Syria was plunged into Internet darkness for more than 19 hours, the second electronic blackout in six months for the strife-ridden nation.
The shutdown, first reported about 9:45 p.m. Tuesday, fed opposition suspicions of a deliberate government operation, perhaps aimed at masking a coming offensive, or to stymie communications among rebel units fighting to oust President Bashar Assad.
“This is a sign of the regime’s weakness and that it is running out of cards to play,” said a representative of the Liwa al-Islam Brigade, a major rebel unit inside Syria.
But Syrian authorities attributed the outage to faulty optical fiber cables, according to news agency reports. On Wednesday evening, state media said Internet service had been restored nationwide after repairs were done.
Companies that monitor Internet usage noted signs of activity in Syria shortly after 5 p.m. local time.
Last November, when the Internet went down for three days, Syria blamed the outage on attacks on infrastructure by “terrorists,” the leadership’s usual term for rebels.
With Syria a tense and violent place, another abrupt disappearance of the Internet immediately set off rumors and speculation about what was going on.
A Damascus-area opposition activist said the “purpose behind the blackout is to disrupt communications between the different centers of the rebels.”
The Internet and social media have been important tools for the opposition.
Last November’s blackout spurred an Internet campaign called “This is Damascus,” featuring contributors from across the globe posting messages in solidarity with the Syrian people. At the time, there was widespread speculation that the Internet failure would serve as a prelude to a large-scale attack by regime forces.
Similar fears were voiced this week. This time however, some activists also gave the beleaguered government the benefit of the doubt.
”I just don’t think anyone in the government cares to hide anything like this,” said Mutassem Billah, a correspondent for the opposition Sham News Network.
Bulos is a special correspondent.