Arab gas pipeline explosion caused Syria blackout – state media

A huge explosion has struck a major natural gas pipeline near Damascus causing a near-nationwide blackout, Syrian state media has said, quoting the country’s electricity and oil ministers.

The Sana news agency and Ikhbariya TV channel showed footage of a huge fire after the blast between the towns of Al-Dhumayr and Adra in the early hours of Monday, which oil minister Ali Ghanem said “may have been caused by a terrorist act”.

No deaths or injuries were reported and firefighters extinguished the blaze as power was gradually restored to the south of the country on Monday morning. The minister provided no further details on the possible attack.

The 1,200 kilometre (745 mile) Arab Gas Pipeline, which carries natural gas from Egypt into Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, supplies three power stations in Syria’s south.

This part of the pipeline has already been targeted five times during the country’s almost decade-old civil war to date, which has killed more than 400,000 and badly affected existing oil and gas infrastructure.

A 2013 power cut caused by rebel shelling of the pipeline affected large swathes of the country. No one has ever claimed responsibility for the previous attacks.

In December, near-simultaneous attacks believed to have been carried out by drones hit three government-run oil and gas installations in central Syria. One of the attacks targeted the oil refinery in the central city of Homs.

In January, bombs planted underwater off Syria’s coast exploded, damaging oil facilities used to pump oil into one of the country’s two petroleum refineries.

Syria has suffered fuel shortages since last year. Western sanctions have blocked imports to government-held areas of the country, while most Syrian oil fields are controlled by Kurdish-led fighters in the country’s east.

The recent collapse of the Syrian pound has exacerbated already sky-high poverty levels across both government and rebel-held territory, putting fuel and basic goods out of the reach of many. Price increases for food, fuel and transport have sparked rare protests against the government across the country’s south.

Syria produced around 380,000 barrels of oil per day before civil war erupted following a crackdown on protests in 2011.

Last month, a little-known US oil company signed a deal with the Kurdish administration in Syria’s north-east to market oil and modernise existing oil fields under Kurdish control, apparently with the “knowledge and encouragement of the White House.”

Damascus described the deal as an illegal attempt to steal Syria’s energy resources.