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Originally published Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 4:56 AM

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Power outage hits Damascus, south Syria

The Syrian government on Monday blamed a rebel attack on a key power line for a blackout that hit Damascus and much of the country's south overnight.

Associated Press

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DAMASCUS, Syria —

The Syrian government on Monday blamed a rebel attack on a key power line for a blackout that hit Damascus and much of the country's south overnight.

The outage engulfed all of Damascus and extended to an area about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north to the town of Zabadani and across the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida that abut the Jordanian border.

Power returned early Monday to some parts of the capital, where frequent power cuts and shortages of gasoline and cooking gas serve as the most frequent reminders of the war that has engulfed much of the rest of the country.

Other than a rebel incursion in July that the government quickly quashed, Damascus has not seen many clashes between forces loyal to Bashar Assad and rebels seeking to topple his regime.

Assad's forces still control the city through a network of checkpoints, but his government has faced mounting difficulty in providing basic services as the 22-month civil war drags on and sanctions imposed by the U.S., the European Union and other countries take their toll.

Syria blamed the power cuts on a rebel attack.

The state news agency quoted Electricity Minister Imad Khamis as saying that the outages were caused by "an armed terrorist attack on the main feed line." The regime refers to those fighting to topple Assad as "terrorists."

Khamis said authorities were working to restore power.

The rebels did not immediately comment.

Damascus residents said they had grown accustomed to power cuts but that this was the first time the whole city had gone dark at once. Many rely on gas-powered generators when the electricity goes out, though gas shortages have given few people this option. In less urban areas, families cook on wood fires.

One resident of the affluent Mezzeh 86 neighborhood reached via Skype said in recent weeks he has had three three-hour power cuts per day, though earlier in January his power was out for six straight days.

The resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals for criticizing the government, said he doubted that a rebel attack caused the overnight outages.

"The problem could be that the government doesn't have the fuel and is suffering from an economic crisis," he said. "But it's easier to blame it on the rebels."

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Hubbard reported from Beirut.

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