Access to the internet suffered severe disruption across the Middle East after two undersea cables in the Mediterranean were damaged.

In Egypt, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said the cut of the international communications cables Flag and Seamewe 4 had led to a partial disruption of internet services and other telecommunications across much of the country yesterday.

Emergency teams were quickly trying to find alternative routes, including satellite connections, to end the disruptions, Minister Tariq Kamel said.

A telecommunications expert at the Egyptian communications ministry, Rafaat Hindy, warned that "solving this could take days".

TeleGeography, a US research group that tracks submarine cables around the world, said the severed lines account for 75 percent of the capacity connecting Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries to Europe.

It would take "a few days up to one week before submarine cable operators deploy ships to bring the cables up and fix the fault", said Eric Schoonover, senior research analyst at TeleGeography.

It was not clear what caused the damage to the cable.

Mr Schoonover said there has been speculation by others that an illegally or improperly anchored ship caused the problem.

Cables get damaged all the time but Mr Schoonover believes this was the first time two undersea cables near each other were cut at the same time.

Phone lines in Egypt still work, indicating "network operators in the area are rerouting traffic through emergency channels", Mr Schoonover said. He said alternative paths include going "around India and back through Asia to the US".

Internet service was also disrupted in Dubai, which markets itself as a top Middle East business and luxury tourist hub.

Both internet service providers said international telephone service was also affected.

An official who works in the customer care department of one of the ISPs, DU, said the cable cut took place between Alexandria, Egypt, and Palermo, Italy.

There was no total cut in Kuwait, but service was interrupted on Tuesday and yesterday.

The Gulfnet International Company apologised in an e-mail to its customers for the "degraded performance in internet browsing".

In Saudi Arabia, some users said internet was functioning fine but others said it was slow or totally down.

Users in Bahrain and Qatar also complained of slow internet.

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