Syria: Suspected Isis ‘terror’ attack on major gas pipeline knocks out power across country

US envoy to Syria says incident ‘almost certainly a strike by Isis’ targeting key state infrastructure

Bel Trew
Middle East Correspondent
Monday 24 August 2020 14:07
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An explosion at a gas pipeline in Syria caused a nationwide blackout on Monday, in an incident that the US believes was “almost certainly” perpetrated by Isis.

The blast struck lines that feed three power stations in the south of Syria and caused massive electricity cuts, the country’s oil minister, Ali Ghanim, told state news agency Sana, adding that it “was the result of a terrorist attack”.

The electricity minister, Zuhair Kharbotli, later told the agency the explosion hit the Arab Gas Pipeline after midnight between the towns of Adra and Dumair, northwest of the capital, Damascus.

He said it was the sixth time the pipeline had been hit and that technicians were working to fix the problems. Sana broadcast footage of firemen in silver protective suits and helmets attempting to put out towering flames.

Speaking from Geneva, the US envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey, said that Washington believed it was likely an Isis attack.

“We are still looking into that. But it was almost certainly a strike by Isis,” he told reporters ahead of the UN-sponsored talks of the Syrian Constitutional Committee being held in the Swiss city.

After a nine-month break due to the coronavirus pandemic, delegations from the Syrian government, the opposition and civil society groups resumed talks just hours after the blast.

They were discussing a possible new constitution that the UN has said is a potential “door opener” to a final resolution of the country’s devastating nine-year civil war.

The UN’s special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, is hosting the three 15-member teams for the week-long gathering at which major regional and world powers including Iran, Russia, Turkey and the US are expected to attend.

The UN-led process has yielded few concrete results so far, but with a tentative ceasefire barely holding in the rebel-held region of Idlib, Mr Pedersen said last week that he hopes to build “trust and confidence”.

Monday morning’s blast only underscored further the need for a resolution to Syria’s conflict, which has killed more than 400,000 people and ravaged the country’s energy infrastructure.

No one claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack. Syria’s oil and gas infrastructure has been hit over the years by acts of sabotage that are frequently unclaimed.

Isis was defeated in Syria last year, but its militants are still active and have claimed several attacks in recent months that killed scores of government troops as well as members of the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

In December, a string of suspected drone attacks hit three government-run oil and gas installations in central Syria, one after the other.

A month before that, facilities that are used to pump oil into one of the country’s two petroleum refineries were damaged after bombs that had been planted underwater off Syria’s coast exploded.

The electricity minister said that power was gradually being restored to the country’s provinces. A resident in Damascus said power had returned in the capital.

In 2013, much of Syria was hit by a power cut after rebel shelling hit a gas pipeline during the civil war.

Additional reporting by agencies

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