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Syria gas pipeline hit by explosion


A gas pipeline in central Syria was hit by an explosion today in an attack the government blamed on terrorists, the state-run news agency said.

The blast happened near the town Rastan in the restive Homs province, Sana reported. No-one was injured.

There have been several pipeline attacks since the Syrian uprising began in mid-March, but it is not clear who is behind them at a time when violence across the country is spiralling out control, unearthing long-standing grievances and resentments.

The government blames saboteurs and terrorists for the blasts.

But the opposition accuses the regime of playing on fears of religious extremism and terrorism to rally support behind President Bashar Assad, who has portrayed himself as the only force that can stabilise the country.

Syria has banned most foreign journalists from the country and prevented independent reporting, making it difficult to confirm claims from either side.

Yesterday, the head of the Arab League said Syrian security forces are still killing anti-government protesters despite the presence of foreign monitors in the country.

But he insisted the observer mission has yielded important concessions from the Damascus regime, such as the withdrawal of heavy weapons from cities.

Opposition groups have been deeply critical of the mission, saying it is simply giving Assad cover for his crackdown.

“The Arab League has fallen victim to the regime's typical traps, in which observers have no choice but to witness regime-staged events, and move about the country only with the full knowledge of the regime,” said a statement by the Local Co-ordinating Committees, an umbrella group of activists.

“This has rendered the observers unable to work or move independently or in a neutral manner,” the group said.

The UN estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed since the revolt erupted in mid-March. Activists say that in the week since the observers started their work in Syria on December 27, hundreds have died. The LCC put the death toll at more than 390 people since December 21.

“Yes, there is still shooting and, yes, there are still snipers,” Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told a news conference in Cairo yesterday.

“Yes, killings continue. The objective is for us to wake up in the morning and hear that no-one is killed. The mission's philosophy is to protect civilians, so if one is killed, then our mission is incomplete.

“There must be a complete ceasefire.”

Mr Elaraby stressed the achievements of the Arab League mission, saying Syria's government has pulled tanks and artillery from cities and residential neighbourhoods and freed some 3,500 prisoners. He said food supplies have reached residents and the bodies of protesters have been recovered.

The monitors are supposed to verify Syria's compliance with an Arab League plan to stop the crackdown on dissent - a plan Syria agreed to on December 19. The plan requires Mr Assad's regime to remove security forces and heavy weapons from city streets, start talks with opposition leaders and free political prisoners.

The ongoing violence is reinforcing the opposition's view that Syria's limited co-operation with the observers is nothing more than a ploy by Mr Assad's regime to buy time and forestall more international condemnation and sanctions.

In its statement, the LCC said the regime has been disguising soldiers and army officers in police uniforms and hiding their army vehicles to make it appear they have pulled out in accordance with the Arab League plan.

While most of the violence reported early in the uprising involved Syrian forces firing on unarmed protesters, there are now more frequent armed clashes between military defectors and security forces. The increasing militarisation of the conflict has raised fears that the country is sliding toward civil war.

The LCC said 20 people were killed across the country yesterday, including 11 in volatile Homs province in central Syria and three in Idlib province, which borders Turkey.