BEIRUT // Internet service was restored in Syria yesterday after a countrywide outage cut off the country from the world for nearly 20 hours, state media said.
The state news agency Sana said a problem with a fibre optics cable was to blame for the second nationwide outage since a two-day blackout in November.
There had been speculation that the regime pulled the plug, possibly as a cover for military actions in the deadly conflict, now in its third year. But no large-scale military offensives were reported yesterday, and there were no immediate allegations of sabotage by the opposition.
In the past, president Bashar Al Assad's government halted internet service in selected areas during government offensives to disrupt communication among rebel fighters trying to remove him.
The last nationwide blackout coincided with a major military operation in areas around the capital and near Damascus Airport.
Humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees got a boost yesterday with news the United States will give another US$100 million (Dh367m), boosting its total to $510 million, the US state department said.
The additional funds, to be officially announced today by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, will help fund United Nations' programmes providing shelter, food and help to refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey as well as inside Syria, the department said in a statement.
In Geneva, the international envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, welcomed a new Russian-US initiative to negotiate an end to the Syrian conflict, which so far has claimed the lives of more than 70,000 people, according to the UN.
A decision to convene an international conference later this month to build on a transition plan for Syria is "the first hopeful news" concerning Syria "in a very long time", Mr Brahimi said.
The goal of the plan, set out in Geneva last year, is to bring the Al Assad regime and representatives from the opposition together for talks on an interim government. Each side would be allowed to veto candidates it finds unacceptable.
The proposal also calls for an open-ended ceasefire and the formation of a transitional government to run the country until new elections can be held and a new constitution drafted.
Mr Brahimi has repeatedly expressed frustrations over the failure to find a political solution in Syria and has lamented the divisions on the UN Security Council that have prevented any international action from being taken.
Iran, one of Mr Al Assad's strongest allies, also said it is ready to help any attempt to end Syria's crisis.
Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi wrote in an opinion piece that it is up to the Syrian people to choose their political system and president, suggesting Tehran is not wedded to Mr Al Assad's continued rule.
"Iran is ready to make successful any fair initiative that guarantees the interests of the Syrian people and restores stability to this country," he wrote in the Lebanese daily Al Akhbar.
The main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said yesterday it welcomed efforts to reach a political solution, but reiterated that any transition must begin with the departure of Mr Al Assad and officials in his regime.
Syrian officials have said that Mr Al Assad will stay in his post until his seven-year term ends next year and he will run again. The Syrian opposition says it will not accept anything less than his departure.
In fighting in Syria yesterday, government troops pushed into a strategic town along the highway leading to the Jordanian border.
The regime's advance into Khirbet Ghazaleh, a town south of Damascus along a key artery to the border, came after weeks of fighting and government attempts to secure the highway.
* Associated Press with additional reports from Agence France-Presse and Reuters