BEIRUT - 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.
The Internet outage, confirmed by two U.S.-based companies that monitor online connectivity, is unprecedented in Syria's 20-month-old uprising against Assad.
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.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned what she called the regime's "assault" on Syrians' ability to communicate with each other and express themselves.
Syrian authorities often cut phone and Internet service in select areas to disrupt rebel communications when regime forces are conducting major operations.
The government sent mixed signals about the Internet outage but denied it was nationwide.
Renesys, a U.S.-based network security firm that studies Internet disruption, said in a statement that Syria effectively disappeared from the Internet at 12:26 p.m. local time.
"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.