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New fibre-optic internet connection in regime-held Aleppo

Meanwhile, residents in rebel-held east Aleppo face a constant battle just to stay alive [AFP]

Date of publication: 13 October, 2016

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While rebel-held eastern Aleppo faces siege and intense bombardment, the Syrian regime has announced the restoration of full internet services to government-controlled western Aleppo.
Syria’s Communications and Technology Ministry announced this week that it had successfully restored internet and communications services with “full capacity” to Aleppo province after years of absence. 

In a post on Facebook on Wednesday the ministry thanked all those who had helped in the restoration process which the ministry claimed “aims to serve the people of Aleppo.”

However residents of rebel-held East Aleppo, who are currently facing an intense bombing campaign perpetrated by regime and Russian warplanes, are unlikely to benefit having been disconnected from the state grid.

Instead they will be forced to continue their reliance on small scale satellite connections known as VSATs and unsanctioned microwave links into Turkey.

Damaged infrastructure

Over 350 civilians have been killed in east Aleppo since a US-Russian brokered ceasefire collapsed on September 19, according to the UK-based monitor. 

According to research conducted by Dyn Research, a US-based internet performance company, the potential internet capacity of regime-held West Aleppo has been improved by the establishment of a new fibre optic line connecting the area with the state telecom’s core network in Damascus, in the process increasing bandwidth available for residents.

Following the outbreak of Syria’s civil war the country’s telecommunications and internet networks became compromised by the spread of conflict into many areas.

As a result, up until the summer of 2013, internet services in Aleppo relied on a fibre optic connection from Turk Telekom that traversed the rebel-held city of Saraqib, west of Aleppo.

However, the fibre optic communications network in Saraqib was allegedly disabled by rebel forces in August 2013 and has never been restored.

Instead, the Syrian regime then sought to re-connect the areas of Aleppo it controls to the grid via an emergency fibre-optic cable linking the city to Turk Telekom networks via Idlib.

However this network also fell into disrepair when rebel forces overran much of the province in 2015.

This network later re-appeared in late 2015 accompanied by a high capacity microwave link to the coastal city of Latakia.

A sign of regime confidence

Analysts predicted at the time that Russian intervention in Syria could not only help the regime of Bashar al-Assad turn the tide against the opposition militarily, but also afford it the space to restore infrastructures in the country, such as internet, damaged and destroyed by conflict.

In a blog post on Thursday Dyn Research noted that the establishment of a new fibre-optic connection into Aleppo represented further “infrastructural consolidation” in north Syria and “may well presage the re-establishment of President Assad’s rule throughout the city.”

In recent weeks with pro-government forces encircling rebel-held East Aleppo on the ground and Russian warplanes patrolling the skies above, analysts have predicted that Aleppo could fall in a matter of weeks.

The UN, for its part, has stated that if bombardment continues at its current pace then the ancient city could be “totally destroyed” by the end of the year.

Faced with a life defined by death, destruction, daily aerial bombardment, and a lack of access to food, medicine, and healthcare, for civilians in rebel-held East Aleppo reports that the new internet connections installed to West Aleppo were failing to function properly on Thursday are unlikely to offer much solace.

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