AMMAN - An explosion hit a major oil pipeline feeding a refinery in the Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday, near a large Sunni Muslim district under bombardment by government forces, residents said.
A large plume of smoke was still rising from the pipeline, which runs near farmland at the edge of Baba Amro district, some two hours after the blast, they said.
It was not clear what caused the explosion. The pipeline, which runs from the Rumeilan fields in the eastern Syriac Desert to the Homs refinery, one of two in the country, has been hit several times before during the 11-month uprising against President Bashar Assad.
The authorities have accused "terrorist saboteurs" of hitting the pipeline while opposition activists said the military, which began firing shells, mortar rounds and rockets into Baba Amro on February 3, has been hitting it by mistake.
Syrian government forces shelled Sunni Muslim neighbourhoods in Homs, the 13th day of their bombardment of a city that has been at the forefront of the uprising against 42 years of rule by President Assad and his late father Hafez.
Troops also launched an offensive on the city of Hama early on Wednesday, firing on
residential neighborhoods from armored vehicles and mobile
anti-aircraft guns, opposition activists said.
Tanks deployed near the citadel of Hama were shelling the neighborhoods of Faraya, Olailat, Bashoura and al-Hamidiya, and troops were advancing from the airport, opposition sources said.
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Assad's determination to crush the revolt, regardless of widespread condemnation of his use of force against civilians, prompted Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia to prepare a new resolution at the United Nations in support of a peace plan forged at a meeting in Cairo on Sunday.
A resolution passed at the meeting urged Arabs to "provide all kinds of political and material support" to the opposition. This included arms transfers, Arab League diplomats told Reuters.
"We will back the opposition financially and diplomatically in the beginning but if the killing by the regime continues, civilians must be helped to protect themselves. The resolution gives Arab states all options to protect the Syrian people," an Arab ambassador said in Cairo.
The head of Egypt's influential seat of Sunni Islamic learning, al-Azhar, called on Tuesday for bold Arab action against the Syrian government, raising regional pressure on Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, that has dominated Syria for five decades.
The threat of military support was meant to add pressure on the Syrian leader and his Russian and Chinese allies but it also risks leading to a Libya-style conflict or sectarian civil war.
Russia and China on Feb. 4 vetoed a Western-Arab UN Security Council resolution that backed an Arab League call for Assad to step aside as part of efforts to end the bloodshed.
France said it had created a one million euro emergency fund for aid
agencies looking to help the Syrian people and would propose a similar
one at an international level next week at a meeting in Tunisia to
discuss the escalating crisis.
Paris had previously proposed "humanitarian corridors" with Syrian
approval or with an international mandate for shipping food and medicine
to alleviate civilian suffering.
Smuggled guns are already reaching Syria but it is not clear if Arab or other governments are behind the deliveries. Weapons and Sunni Muslim insurgents are also crossing into Syria from Iraq, Iraqi officials and arms dealers said.
Assad dismisses his opponents as terrorists backed by enemy nations in a regional power-play and says he will introduce reforms on his own terms.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 20 people killed across Syria on Tuesday, including opposition supporters, civilians, and five government soldiers shot in clashes with rebel fighters in Qalaat al-Madyaq town near Hama.
The government says at least 2,000 members of its military and security forces have died and the United Nations says government forces have killed several thousand civilians.
In Homs, a strategic city on the highway between Damascus and the commercial hub Aleppo, the pro-opposition district of Baba Amro was struck by shelling on Wednesday, activists said. At least six people were killed there on Tuesday, taking the city's estimated toll above 400 since the assault began on Feb.3
Foreign media have to rely on unverified activists' accounts because the Syrian government restricts access. But reports from neutral international organizations confirm a general picture of widespread violence.
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