Syria calls pipeline blast an ‘accident’

Syrian officials blamed a technical problem for an explosion that damaged a natural gas pipeline near Deir al-Zour, a restive region in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.

The explosion, which occurred at 12:30 am on Tuesday, could have been caused by a hole in the pipeline or a farmer burning dry grass after harvest, an official from the Syrian Oil Company told Al-Watan newspaper.

The region has been hit by a heavy four-year drought. But it denied it was an act of sabotage.

“I prefer to say that it was not on purpose,” Syrian Minister of Oil Sofian Allaw, said.

He added that production and transportation of petroleum was unaffected, Al-Watan reported. It was a “normal accident” and was “under control after just two hours,” the minister said. He also denied that the fire was the result of an explosion cause by “saboteurs”.

Other media reports said it was the first attack on the oil infrastructure in Syria and still others that the government was behind the attack in order to discredit the opposition by portraying them as violent and a threat to the economy.

Residents said the town was rife with rumors suggesting that the explosion was caused by the family of a protester, who is in detention. Syria News, citing accounts, said the protester’s parents had asked authorities to release him or they would blow up pipelines.

Diplomats meet to discuss Syria nuclear issue at UN

A UN meeting to discuss Syria’s alleged nuclear ambitions convened today in New York.

Syria was referred to the UN Security Council by the International Atomic Energy Agency over an alleged nuclear site in Deir ez-Zor that Israeli jets bombed to rubble in 2007. The Syrian government has always denied it was using the site to enrich uranium for weapons.

The nuclear issue is just one way foreign states are trying to apply pressure on Syria. Sanctions, freezes on assets and travel bans have been imposed on top officials and businessmen, and the West has been pressing for a resolution condemning Syria to be passed at the UN. So far Russia and China have blocked these attempts.

US President Barack Obama sharpened his rhetoric against Syria yesterday, saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “losing legitimacy in the eyes of his people,” and has missed “opportunity after opportunity” to present genuine reforms.

Meanwhile, President al-Assad met yesterday with the new head of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, where he discussed plans for reform in Syria, the conflict in Libya and the wider situation in the Arab World.

Relations with other Arab states have come under strain of late, with countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States being implicated in stirring unrest in Syria.

Foreign and Expatriates Minister Walid al-Mu’allem threatened the US ambassador, Robert Ford, with movement restrictions following the visit of the US and French ambassadors to Hama and attacks on the two countries’ embassies in Damascus.

If the ambassador “continues violating our measures, we will forbid him from moving more than 25km from Damascus,” al-Mu’allem said.

Writers, activists arrested at Midan protest

Around 30 activists were arrested near Al-Hasasn Mosque in Al-Midan district in central Damascus yesterday calling for an end to the bloodshed.

About 250 intellectuals, journalists and other public personalities gathered outside the mosque to protest against the government amid a high security presence.

According to Avaaz, an international human rights group, those arrested may include actress Mai Skaf, journalist Iyad Sharbaji, twin movie actors Mohammad and Ahmad Malas, actor Nidal Hasan, author Yam Mashadi, author Rima Flaihan, photographer Guevara Nemr, Basel Shehadeh, Sasha Ayoub, Dana Bakdounis, Iyad El-Abed lellah, Fadi Zaidan, Omar Al-Jeba’ee, and Abdulaziz Al-Dreid.

In Hama, local media reports “intensive” negotiations are going on between the authorities and residents.

The residents are calling for the state to meet their demands, some of which a report in Al-Watan called “legitimate” and some “illegitimate”. The report said army units on Mezrab Bridge were attacked by Molotov Cocktails but nobody was injured and some damage to property happened to maintain the roadblocks. A local resident named only as MRK was also reportedly found dead in his home after being accused of being a security agent.

Syria Today (Syria)