In the past week, we have detected the first signs of the Internet returning to Syria’s largest city, Aleppo. Internet service in this part of the country was knocked out on March 24 — over seven months ago. Internet connectivity, and the lack of it, has been a continuing subplot to this bloody civil war well into its fifth year.
A notable difference with the restored service is that it is no longer routed via Turkey (as it had been) — likely due to the fact that the Syrian government no longer controls the ground between Aleppo (in the northern part of the country) and Turkey. The restoration of Internet service in Aleppo may be an outcome of Russia’s recent engagement (with assistance from Iran) in the battle for Aleppo — and perhaps an indicator of the scales tipping towards government forces in this protracted battle.
The first Syrian Internet shutdown occurred in June 2011 during ‘Arab Spring’ protests as two thirds of the country’s routed networks were taken down for over 48 hours. As the conflict has continued over the years, Syria has suffered numerous Internet blackouts including a multi-day outage in November 2012.
In Aleppo, fighting in the area led to severing of the JADI international terrestrial line connecting Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia on 11 August 2012 — a long-haul route never repaired due to security issues. Internet service to the Aleppo region was knocked out in August 2013 with the loss of Turkish transit to STE (Syrian Telecom). It was subsequently restored later that fall – represented in routing in the form of a new Autonomous System number, AS24814 (Syrian Computer Society). Internet service in Aleppo (and with it AS24814) went offline in March of this year, but has resurfaced in recent days, marking the return of local service.
— Dyn Research (@DynResearch) March 27, 2015
We observed AS24814 return at 09:30:43 UTC on Sunday, 8 November, announcing two routes (184.108.40.206/24 and 220.127.116.11/24) for about 24 hours. At the time of this writing, it is announcing a single route (18.104.22.168/24). As stated above, AS24814 (Aleppo’s Internet service provider) is no longer routed exclusively via Turk Telekom, as it had been for many years. Now service is going through the main network of STE and on to PCCW (STE’s primary international provider). This change in routing path is likely due to the fact that the Syrian government (owner of STE) can no longer secure a physical path to Turkey as the terrain between Aleppo and Turkey is divided between ISIS and the rebels — not to mention the deteriorating relations between Turkey and Syria. See recent map of terrain control below.
Rumors of restoration
In the past week, there have been articles in the Syrian press (“Internet to Return to Aleppo Very Soon”, 5 November) about the pending restoration of the link to Aleppo. And there have been numerous tweets in Arabic from Syrians discussing a possible Internet restoration like the ones below.
Translated with the help of Google: “The Internet will return to Aleppo Very Soon … Informed sources confirmed that the return of Internet service in the near future, with God’s help …”
خدمة الانترنت قريبآ جدآ في حلب …حسب مصادر مطلعة أكدت عودة الخدمة بالقريب العاجل بعون الله …. — الاعلامية عهد بريدي (@ahid_bridi) November 5, 2015
Translated with the help of Google: Rumors about the Internet back in #Aleppo are untrue. Stay tuned for the return of Internet ADSL service in #Aleppo
— ܥܒܘܕ™®© (@Aboud3eonalsod) November 4, 2015
Translated with the help of Google: Aleppo back online very soon after a lapse of about 7 months
In the months following the loss of the primary Internet service in Aleppo, some clever Syrians were able to stay connected by extending Turkish mobile service into some of the neighborhoods of Aleppo — perhaps this is how we were able to see some of the above tweets.
Could it have been the entrance of Russia and Iran in the battle of Aleppo that made it safe enough for the government’s telecommunications technicians to restore service in Aleppo? Perhaps. All we can hope for now is that the restoration portends a cessation in the seemingly never-ending fighting that has taken the lives of thousands in this ancient country.