State Media Blames Terrorist Group for Gas Line Explosion in Syria

Associated Press + More

BEIRUT — An "armed terrorist group" in Syria blew up a gas pipeline at dawn Monday, the state-run media said, as activists reported gunfire and explosions in the suburbs of Damascus as the country's conflict moves ever closer to the capital.

The pipleline carries gas from the central province of Homs to an area near the border with Lebanon. SANA news agency reported that the blast happened in Tal Hosh, which is about five miles (eight kilometers) from Talkalakh, along the border with Lebanon.

Further details were not immediately released.

There have been several pipeline attacks since the Syrian uprising began in mid-March, but it is not clear who is behind them.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the turmoil in the Middle East.]

President Bashar Assad's regime has blamed "terrorists" for driving the country's 10-month-old uprising, not protesters seeking democratic change.

On Sunday, Syrian troops in dozens of tanks and armored vehicles stormed rebellious areas near the capital, shelling neighborhoods that have fallen under the control of army dissidents and clashing with fighters.

Activists and residents said at least 62 people were killed in violence nationwide.

The large-scale Sunday offensive suggested the regime is worried that military defectors could close in on Damascus, the seat of Assad's power. Early Monday, activists reported hearing gunfire and blasts in the Damascus suburbs, but there were no details.

The rising bloodshed added urgency to Arab and Western diplomatic efforts to end the 10-month conflict.

In the past two weeks, army dissidents have become more visible near the capital, seizing several suburbs on the eastern edge of Damascus and setting up checkpoints where masked men wearing military attire and wielding assault rifles stop motorists and protect anti-regime protests.

[See pictures of the crackdown in Syria.]

Their presence so close to the capital is astonishing in tightly controlled Syria and suggests the Assad regime may either be losing control or setting up a trap for the fighters before going on the offensive.

The uprising against Assad, which began with largely peaceful demonstrations, has grown increasingly militarized recently as more frustrated protesters and army defectors have taken up arms.

In a bid to stamp out resistance in the capital's outskirts, the military has responded with a withering assault on a string of suburbs, leading to a spike in violence that has killed at least 150 people since Thursday.

The United Nations says at least 5,400 people have been killed in the 10 months of violence.

The U.N. is holding talks on a new resolution on Syria and next week will discuss an Arab League peace plan aimed at ending the crisis. But the initiatives face two major obstacles: Damascus' rejection of the Arab plan that it says impinges on its sovereignty, and Russia's willingness to use its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Syria from sanctions.