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Internet collapses in war-torn Yemen over ‘maintenance’ after Houthi attacks targeting Israel and US

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Internet access across the war-torn nation of Yemen collapsed Friday and stayed down for hours, with officials later blaming unannounced “maintenance work” for an outage that followed attacks by the country’s Houthi rebels on both Israel and the U.S.

The outage began early Friday and halted all traffic at YemenNet, the country’s main provider for about 10 million users which is now controlled by Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthis.

Both NetBlocks, a group tracking internet outages, and the internet services company CloudFlare reported the outage. The two did not offer a cause for the outage.

“Data shows that the issue has impacted connectivity at a national level as well,” CloudFlare said.

Several hours later, some service was restored, though access remained troubled.

In a statement to the Houthi-controlled SABA state news agency, Yemen’s Public Telecom Corp. blamed the outage on maintenance.

“Internet service will return after the completion of the maintenance work,” the statement quoted an unidentified official as saying.

An earlier outage occurred in January 2022 when the Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthis in Yemen bombed a telecommunications building in the Red City port city of Hodeida. There was no immediate word of a similar attack.

The undersea FALCON cable carries the internet into Yemen through the Hodeida port along the Red Sea for TeleYemen. The FALCON cable has another landing in Yemen’s far eastern port of Ghaydah as well, but the majority of Yemen’s population lives in its west along the Red Sea.

GCX, the company that operates the cable, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

The outage came after a series of recent drone and missile attacks by the Houthis targeting Israel during its campaign of airstrikes and a ground offensive targeting Hamas in the Gaza Strip. That includes a claimed strike Thursday targeting the Israeli port city of Eilat on the Red Sea. The Houthis also shot down an American MQ-9 Reaper drone this week with a surface-to-air missile, part of a wide series of attacks in the Mideast raising concerns about a regional war breaking out.

Yemen’s conflict began in 2014 when the Houthis seized Sanaa and much of the country’s north. The internationally recognized government fled to the south and then into exile in Saudi Arabia.

The Houthi takeover prompted a Saudi-led coalition to intervene months later and the conflict turned into a regional proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the U.S. long involved on the periphery, providing intelligence assistance to the kingdom.

However, international criticism over Saudi airstrikes killing civilians saw the U.S. pull back its support. The U.S. is suspected of still carrying out drone strikes targeting suspected members of Yemen’s local al-Qaida branch.

The war has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, killing tens of thousands more. A cease-fire that expired last October largely has held in the time since, though the Houthis are believed to be slowly stepping up their attacks as a permanent peace has yet to be reached.

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