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Syria: ‘It Seems They Got Better In Tracking Satellite Mobiles’ – OpEd


Communications have been key to the Arab Spring. The Syrian uprising is no exception. Facebook, Youtube and Twitter have been huge.

The Syrian crackdown is compromising many of those medium. As more activists are arrested, passwords will be revealed and opposition networks exposed, allowing the government to arrest leaders of the uprising and track down opposition cells.

Anthony Shadid reports that the satellite phones that provided the main secure link between activists and journalists in Beirut and those leading the revolution inside Syria are now falling quite.

Syria Broadens Deadly Military Crackdown on Protesters
Published: May 8, 2011

BEIRUT — A military crackdown on Syria’s seven-week uprising broadened Sunday, with reinforcements sent to two cities under siege and more forces deployed in a town in a restive region in the south of the country, activists and human rights groups said. Fourteen were killed in Homs, the groups said, and hundreds reported arrested.

The crackdown — from the Mediterranean coast to the poor steppe of southern Syria — seemed to mark a decisive turn in an uprising that has posed the gravest challenge to the 11-year rule of President Bashar al-Assad. Even though government officials have continued to hint at reforms, and even gingerly reached out to some dissidents last week, the crackdown seemed to signal the government’s intent to end the uprising by force.

At least 30 tanks were said to be inside Baniyas, one of Syria’s most restive locales, where the military entered Saturday. Activists and human rights groups said they had almost no information about the coastal town of 50,000, but one activist said at least six people were killed and 250 arrested since the operation began.

Fighting was also reported in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, where tanks entered Friday. Wissam Tarif, the executive director of Insan, a Syrian human rights group, said that 14 people had been killed there, but he could not confirm the casualties in Baniyas. He said that the military had also entered Tafas, a town in southern Syria.

“This is a campaign that’s going to more cities,” he said. “It’s escalating and it’s very worrying because they’re also getting better at isolating these places.”

He said that his group had documented the arrest of 750 people, most of them in the suburbs of Damascus, but he had no precise figures for Homs and Baniyas.

Since the beginning of the uprising, Syria has barred most foreign journalists, and many accounts have relied on groups like Mr. Tarif’s and networks of activists inside the country. But Mr. Tarif complained that his group was almost entirely unable to speak with people in both Homs and Baniyas. Even satellite phones that protest organizers had sought to smuggle into towns and cities across Syria were not working, he said.

“It seems they got better in tracking satellite mobiles,” he said.

The uprising began last month with protests in Dara’a, a town near the border with Jordan. The protesters gathered after security forces had arrested and mistreated high school students for scrawling anti-government graffiti on walls. The protests soon spread across the country, with successive Fridays witnessing thousands in the streets in dozens of towns.

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Syria Comment - Joshua Landis

Joshua Landis maintains Syria Comment and teaches modern Middle Eastern history and politics and writes on Syria and its surrounding countries. He writes “Syria Comment,” a daily newsletter on Syrian politics that attracts some 3,000 readers a day. It is widely read by officials in Washington, Europe and Syria. Dr. Landis regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with the State Department and other government agencies. He is a frequent analyst on TV and radio.

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