Authorities in Syria have blocked users of the social network Web site Facebook as part of a crackdown on political activism on the Internet, Reuters reported Friday. "Facebook helped further civil society in Syria and form civic groups outside government control. This is why it has been banned," women's rights advocate Dania al-Sharif told Reuters. "They cut off communications between us and the outside world. We are used to this behavior from our government," said Mais al-Sharbaji, who set up a Facebook group for amateur Syrian photographers. The Syrian government was silent following its decision, while over the past few months it has intensified a campaign against bloggers, virtual opinion forums and independent media sites. According to Reuters, thousands of Syrians use Facebook to communicate with relatives and friends abroad. The social network also links groups with political and cultural interests. Syrians who have pages on the site include businessmen with links to the ruling class and pro-government commentators. Head of the National Association for Human Rights, Ammar al-Qurabi, said little independent political content published by Syrians on the Internet is now tolerated. "We have asked officials and they said Facebook could become a conduit for Israeli penetration of our youth, but the real reason for blocking the forum is because it provides for criticism of the authorities," Qurabi said. There is now an 'Internet political crimes' ward at one prison. Internet cafes have been required to limit their communications services," said Qurabi. According to the report, even Microsoft Hotmail is regularly blocked. There is no access to scores of newspapers on the Web, such as the Lebanese daily an-Nahar and al-Quds al-Arabi, which is published in London by veteran Palestinian journalist Abdel-Bari Atwan.

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