|Activists and Syrian state media give varying accounts of an oil pipeline explosion in Homs [AFP]|
Syrian activists say at least 13 people have been killed by security forces across the country, on the same day a pipeline carrying oil from the east to a refinery in Homs city was set ablaze.
Syrian state news, SANA, called Thursday’s fire and resulting explosion an act of sabotage by an armed terrorist group.
However, activists said government militia members hoping to place the blame on the protest movement started the fire.
Witnesses said Syrian media was immediately on the scene of the oil pipeline attack, next to a major military checkpoint in the restive city.
President Bashar al-Assad has in the past blamed terrorist groups for creating violent tension among the Syrian people in the last nine months.
The narrator of an online video showing raging flames and black clouds of smoke in the Bab Amr neighbourhood of Homs said the pipeline was attacked by a military force backed with armoured vehicles also pictured in the 40 second clip.
“Bab Amro, (this is) the armoured vehicle that attacked the oil pipeline, this is the armoured vehicle in Bab Amro
and these are the Shabiha (state-backed militia) around the armoured vehicle and this is another armoured vehicle, and
this is the oil pipeline facing the vehicles,” the man could be heard saying.
Another video claiming to show the aftermath of the explosion, was narrated by a man accusing forces loyal to Assad of purposely sabotaging the pipeline leading to a refinery.
“(This is) Bab Amro, the burning of one of the pipelines by Assad’s Shabiha (state-backed militia), using a mortar rocket in Bab Amro neighbourhood on December 8, 2011 and the houses around it are burning,” the man narrated.
“The pipeline was attacked by the government forces so they can accuse the residents of doing it, so they can bomb Baba Amro entirely,” the man continued. Al Jazeera could not independently verify the citizen videos.
The Homs refinery serves part of Syria’s domestic requirement for refined oil products. A British-based Syrian human rights group says it is the main pipeline that feeds the Homs refinery.
Meanwhile, the violence continued elsewhere. Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from Amman in neighbouring Jordan, said that three people were killed in Idlib and 10 in Homs.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC), an opposition group, named some of those that died in Homs: Razouq al-Azou (in Bab Amro), Sabee’ Dabdoub (23-years-old, in al-Bayyada), Salam al-Saleh (in Bab Amro), Nasser Suleiman al-Abrash (in al-Khalidieh) and Abdul Majid Khudeir al-Othman (in Asheera).
In Idlib, the commission said Mohammad Amin Subhi al-Najjar, an army defector from Aleppo, was also killed.
In the al-Houleh area of Homs, six people were also reportedly injured in gunfire. In al-Qaboun, outside Damascus, heavy gunfire was reported on Thursday morning.
In Deraa, security forces and government loyalists are said to have raided the al-Teebeh village, vandalising property and ransacking the homes of activists.
Denial of crackdown
The fresh violence came one day after a US interview with Assad made international headlines.
In an interview aired on Wednesday by the US broadcaster ABC, Assad said he had not given security forces a command “to kill or be brutal” and he denied ordering a deadly crackdown on the uprising that began last March.
“They’re not my forces,” Assad responded when asked if Syrian troops had cracked down too hard on protesters.
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“They are military forces [who] belong to the government. I don’t own them. I’m president. I don’t own the country. No government in the world kills its people, unless it is led by a crazy person.”
Syria’s foreign ministry responded to the interview saying the remarks made by Assad were taken out of context.
However, in his role as president, Assad is officially the commander of Syria’s armed forces, which have reportedly used tanks, heavy weaponry, plain-clothed armed groups, and snipers to besiege dissidents in residential areas across the country.
After the interview aired, Jihad Makdissi, a Syrian foreign ministry spokesman, said that Assad wanted to make the point that the army was not his personal “militia”.