x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Explosion on Syrian oil pipeline near restive Homs

State-run news agency blames militants, while activists say at least seven people were killed in a separate raids in the city.

BEIRUT // A major Syrian pipeline carrying oil to a refinery in the restive Homs province was blown up today, activists and the state-run news agency said, as violence stemming from the country's nine-month uprising spirals out of control.

No casualties were reported and it was not clear who was behind Thursday's explosion.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the pipeline was "bombed", while the state-run news agency Sana blamed militants.

"An armed terrorist group on Thursday committed an act of sabotage," Sana said.

A government official said the blast caused a fire that has been burning for four hours. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

There were two similar blasts on Syrian pipelines in July, with no injuries.

Nomair Makhlouf, the general director of the Syrian Oil Company, said the pipeline serves Syria's domestic requirements and carries 140,000 barrels a day.

Reports today could not be independently confirmed. Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting.

Syria is trying to crush a popular uprising, but the conflict is turning more violent as once-peaceful protesters increasingly take up arms.

Activists today said Syrian security forces have also killed at least seven civilians, including a woman, in Homs.

The deaths occurred as the security forces used sniper fire and "arbitrary" shelling during raids on three districts of the city.

Meanwhile, sanctions from Turkey, the Arab League and the European Union are aimed at squeezing the ailing Syrian economy and forcing the regime to halt the bloodshed.

The EU has banned oil imports from Syria in a move that costs the embattled regime millions of dollars each day.

Yesterday, in a rare interview, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad said he never ordered the brutal suppression of the uprising in his country, and insisted only a "crazy person" would kill his own people.

Apparently trying to distance himself from violence that the UN says has killed at least 4,000 people since March, Assad laughed off a question about whether he feels any guilt.

"I did my best to protect the people," he told ABC's Barbara Walters during an interview at the presidential palace in the Syrian capital, Damascus. "You feel sorry for the life that has been lost, but you don't feel guilty when you don't kill people."

"No government in the world [kills] its people unless it is led by a crazy person," Assad added in the interview, which was conducted in English. Assad, who trained as an ophthalmologist in Britain, speaks the language fluently.