A Syrian pipeline carrying crude from oilfields in the east of the country was blown up near the restive city of Homs, according to anti-government activists and the official news agency SANA. Clouds of thick black smoke billowed over a high-rise suburb of the city, the epicenter of popular unrest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that began in March. Refinery towers and storage tanks were visible in the background of one SANA photograph.
Rami Abdulrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the pipeline fed a refinery in Homs. But SANA said an armed terrorist group had attacked a section of pipeline taking crude beyond Homs directly to Banias on the Mediterranean coast. Homs is a city of 800,000 people where activists say about 1,500 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on anti-government protests.
"Authorities rushed to the spot, extinguished the fire, stopped pumping oil into the targeted pipeline and shifted it to alternative pipes," the agency said.
The Homs refinery serves part of Syria's domestic requirement for oil products. Saboteurs had already blown up the pipeline to the coast near Homs in July, according to SANA.
The Observatory network reported that nine people had been killed in Homs on Thursday by snipers and in "random" shootings.
Street protests began in Syria nine months ago, inspired by a wave of revolt across the Arab world. The ferocity of Assad's crackdown triggered desertions from the armed forces, and several thousand defectors have joined a guerrilla army staging hit-and-run attacks on security forces.
Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for 41 years, is under growing international pressure to cease violent repression of protests, in which the United Nations says over 4,000 people have been killed, and negotiate with opponents.
The head of the Arab League, which has threatened to impose sanctions if Syria does not comply with a peace plan and sign an agreement allowing international monitors into the country, said on Thursday "the ball is in the Syrian court."
"What we expect is as soon as possible Syria will accept to sign the protocol," Nabil Elaraby said during a trip to Iraq. "It is up to them. (If) they want to stop the economic sanctions, they sign."