An explosion hit the main oil pipeline feeding a refinery on the western edge of the Syrian city of Homs on Tuesday during fighting between rebels and army forces in the area, opposition activists said.
Video footage, which could not be independently verified, showed thick smoke rising from the pipeline which links eastern oil fields with the Homs refinery, one of two in the country.
“The pipeline exploded overnight when fighting broke out after the Free Syrian Army launched concerted attacks against army roadblocks in the area,” Nader al-Husseini, an opposition campaigner, said from Homs.
The pipeline, located in a farmland area called al-Basatin, has been hit several times before, with both sides accusing the other of sabotaging it. President Bashar al-Assad has moved armored units to Homs to try and contain the armed revolt in the city, 140 kms (90 miles) north of Damascus.
With Western sanctions imposed last year on Syria’s oil sector, production has fallen sharply. Economic decline and loss of state control over many parts of the country have curbed production of oil products and caused severe shortages.
Syria’s SNC insists on leading role
The head of the opposition Syrian National Council, meeting in Qatar this week to broaden its membership, said Tuesday that the “cornerstone” umbrella group should preserve its leading role in any revamp.
Abdel Basset Sayda also denounced the failure of the international community to act to end “massacres” being committed by forces loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
His remarks were made during a meeting of the SNC general assembly in the Qatari capital Doha, as the United States heaped pressure on the opposition to form a wider structure.
Sayda said the SNC would take part in a broad opposition meeting on Thursday called by host Qatar and the Arab League, but insisted on a leading role for the council.
“We will attend the meeting with an open heart and mind. But we would like to stress from the start the need to keep the SNC as the cornerstone of the Syrian opposition,” said the SNC chairman.
“We think that any attempt to target the SNC, whether intentionally or not, will prolong the crisis,” he added.
Opposition figures meeting in Doha are expected to discuss an initiative by leading dissident Riad Seif to unite all Syrian groups opposed to Assad.
The proposal, which seems to enjoy U.S. support but has encountered reservations from some SNC members, will top the agenda of the broader meeting on Thursday.
The SNC agreed Monday to revamp its structure to accommodate representatives of 13 other opposition factions and independents, spokesman Ahmad Kamel said.
But Washington appeared to play down the action, saying restructuring required more than numbers.
Russian FM says Syrian rebels have 50 stingers
Syrian rebels under increasing attack from regime warplanes have obtained 50 Stinger shoulder-launched missiles, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Amman Tuesday after talks with a top dissident.
“Russia knows that the Syrian rebels have obtained 50 Stinger missiles from outside to hit (regime) jet fighters,” Lavrov told reporters on Tuesday, according to an Arabic translation of remarks he made in Russian.
“Those who are supplying arms to the opposition are delivering systems that are not intended for defense. There is confirmed information that on Syrian territory there are over 50 Stingers,” he said, as later quoted by Russia’s Interfax news agency.
“You know perfectly well what Stingers are intended for, all the more so that the leaders of the (rebel) Syrian Free Army have repeatedly said that civilian planes will be a legitimate target.”
Lavrov stressed after his meeting in the Jordanian capital on Tuesday with Syria’s defected former prime minister Riad Hijab that he planned to work with opposition groups to help end the conflict that has ravaged Syria for more than 19 months.
Lavrov, on a two-day visit to Jordan, is also due to meet separately with King Abdullah II and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.