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For the first time since 2007, Syrians can directly log onto Facebook and YouTube without going through proxy servers abroad, Internet users said on Wednesday.

The authorities issued no statements regarding the development, but Syria’s leading media and technology entrepreneur, Abdulsalam Haykal, told AFP that the request to lift the block “had reached internet service providers.”

“The process of lifting the ban will take time and may extend for hours or days, according to the supplier,” he added.

Al-Watan, a newspaper close to the government, quoted analysts as saying that lifting the firewall on Facebook and YouTube demonstrated “the government’s confidence in its performance and that the state did not fear any threat coming from these two sites nor others.”

But they noted that some websites remain blocked, including selected blogs, the Arabic version of Wikipedia, and a number of foreign and Arab media.

Last week a call on Facebook for a “day of rage” in Damascus — mirroring mass demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia — amassed more than 12,000 supporters online, but in the end no protesters were seen on the streets.

US welcomes but cautious

An aide to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday welcomed Syria’s decision to give its people direct access to Facebook and You Tube, but voiced fears that users would run risks without freedom of expression.

” We welcome positive move on Facebook & YouTube in Syria but concerned that freedom puts users at risk absent freedom of expression and association ,” Alec Ross said on the microblogging website Twitter.

“The process of lifting the ban will take time and may extend for hours or days, according to the supplier,” he added.

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