Rebels attack Syria's key oil facilities amid fierce fights

The Philippine Star

DAMASCUS (Xinhua) - The radical rebels targeted on Saturday key oil resources in central and eastern Syria, as intense battles are still ongoing at the al-Qalamoun Mountains in the northern countryside of Damascus, reports said.

Armed rebels fired mortar shells at Homs Oil Refinery in Syria' s central province of Homs Saturday, causing a huge fire at one of the fuel tanks, the state-media said.

The Director of Homs refinery, Akram Sultan, said that a worker was injured as a fuel tank was set ablaze by a mortar shell launched by "terrorists".

Sultan said that the firefighters have started extinguishing the fire.

Homs Refinery Company, the first refinery in Syria, came into operation in 1959 with a capacity of one million ton per year of light crude oil.

The rebels have targeted several oil and gas pipelines across the country in a bid to paralyze the energy sector of the war-torn country.

Earlier in the day, al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front captured al- Omar oil field in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour during an overnight battle with the government troops, according to activist groups.

The rebels initially captured the oil field, which is regarded as the largest oil field in eastern Syria, in November 2012 but were dislodged by the Syrian troops.

A video footage appeared online Saturday purporting to show radical rebels driving a tank under a sign that read "Euphrates Oil Company-al-Omar field."

Recent local reports said that oil, the lifeline of the Syrian economy, is at risk as the main oil fields are located in rebel- held areas in northeast Syria and is erroneously used by gunmen.

The report said that 40.000 oil barrels were stolen on a daily basis, causing $1.4 billion in direct material losses and 17.7 billion in indirect losses till the end of the third quarter of 2013.

The report said that data of the oil establishment have revealed that more than 20 oil wells have been burned and 128 others were stolen.

According to the General Director of the General Establishment for Oil, Ali Abbas, some 8.5 billion barrels have been stolen, adding that some 16.000 tons of cooking gas were also stolen.

He said that heavy oil production has been completely stopped as of the third month of 2013 and what is currently being produced in light oil, whose quantity doesn't exceed 15.000 barrels a day because of repetitive attacks against oil pipelines extending from Tal Adas in the northeastern city of al-Hassakeh till Homs refinery in central Syria.

Gas production also dramatically declined from 28 million cubic meters to 17 million as rebels have fully controlled Deir el-Zour and al-Jibsseh gas plants. It has totally stopped on December 2012. Al-Jibsseh plant re-operated in August but with no more than 50 percent of its capacity.

Oil sector was a pillar of Syria's economy until the outbreak of events, with the country producing about 380.000 barrels and exporting around 130.000 barrels a day and put the rest in domestic use.

Oil was forming around 45 percent of Syria's total exports. In 2010, Syria's oil exports were estimated at $3 billion. In 2013, Syria imported oil by $1.7 billion, in a drive aimed to meet the people's need of oil derivations.

At the beginning of the crisis, the EU has slapped Syria with harsh economic sanctions including an embargo on purchasing or transporting Syrian oil and prohibiting companies from dealing with Syria or investing in it, in addition to withdrawing experts and staff, suspending funding, and imposing sanctions on Syrian petroleum companies.

By the end of 2011, all foreign companies that were operating in the oil field left the country. On April 2013, the EU countries permitted the purchase of the stolen crude Syrian oil, a step which has been denounced by the Syrian government and was considered as encouraging armed groups to steal oil.

The cost of rehabilitating oil establishments is totaled at around $1 billion and unveiled a plan to re-operate oil establishment within the next five years.

Aside from the attacks against the country's oil reserves, clashes continued Saturday in the towns of al-Qalamoun Mountains, located north of Damascus on the international road that connects the capital with the central province of Homs.

The clashes intensified in the town of Deir Attieh, which was overran by the rebels last Wednesday following their escape from the town of Qara which was freed by the Syrian troops earlier last week.

Activists said the Syrian troops carried out multiple airstrikes against the rebel positions in al-Qalamoun as the road between Damascus and Homs was cut off due to the intensity of the clashes.

Most of the fuel stations in Damascus were empty of fuel Saturday as a result of the international road's closure.

The victory in al-Qalamoun is crucial to the Syrian troops as ridding the rebel-held area would secure the road that connects Damascus in the south with central and northern Syria and would cut off the rebels' supply line from neighboring Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Syria's state-run SANA news agency said the Syrian army carried out "intensive, successful qualitative operations" against armed rebels in the northern province of Aleppo, eliminating several groups with all of their weapons and equipments.

The operations took place at Kastello, Sheikh Najjar, west of Khan al-Asal town, al-Bab, and east of al-Nairab area among others, the report said.

Opposition activists, however, claimed that the government troops operations in Aleppo led to the killing of at least 40 people, mostly civilians.

The Syrian troops and its affiliated militias have been intensifying attacks against rebels' positions in the eastern outskirts of Aleppo, recapturing a number of key positions and towns, a progress that aims at securing the vicinity of the international airport of Aleppo, which has been closed off for over a year due to the intensity of clashes in its vicinity.   

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