Assad fires official who barred Facebook

Recent reports suggest Damascus blocked social networking site out of fear of Israeli "infiltration."

Syria Facebook 224.88 (photo credit: Illustration by Ricky Ben-David)
Syria Facebook 224.88
(photo credit: Illustration by Ricky Ben-David)
Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday replaced Syria's communications and religious affairs ministers, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported. Assad issued a decree naming Imad Abdul-Ghani Sabbouni as minister of communications, replacing Amr Nazir Salem. Sabbouni had been Salem's advise. Local Syrian Web sites in recent months had been critical of Salem, who had been nominated to the post in February 2006, for blocking some Web sites including and the Arab online newspaper as well as online social networking site Facebook. Recent reports have said that Syrian authorities blocked Facebook, the popular Internet hangout, over what seems to be fears of Israeli "infiltration" of Syrian social networks on the Net. Residents in Damascus said that they have not been able to enter Facebook for more than two weeks. An Associated Press reporter got a blank page when he tried to open the Facebook web page Friday from the Syrian capital. Syrian officials were not available for comment Friday because of the Muslim weekend, but some reports have suggested that the ban was made to prevent Israeli users from infiltrating Syrian social networks. Lebanon's daily As-Safir reported that Facebook was blocked on November 18. It said the authorities took the step because many Israelis have been entering Syria-based groups. Human rights groups have regularly criticized Syrian authorities for blocking opposition sites and Internet sites critical of Assad's government. Former President Hafez Assad's death in 2000 after three decades of authoritarian rule raised hopes of a freer society under his British-educated son and successor. But the younger Assad later cracked down on political opponents and human rights activists putting many of them in jail.