"A terrorist group" blew up an oil pipeline at dawn Thursday in the restive Homs province in central Syria, which is the third blast targeting its oil infrastructure since unrest erupted in the country in mid-March, further crippling its energy sector already hit by Western sanctions.
The blast, which took place at Tel al-Shour west of Homs, caused oil leak that resulted in a fire for at least four hours, according to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA). Yet no casualties were reported.
Syria has, from the beginning, blamed armed terrorist groups backed by a foreign conspiracy for being behind the turmoil with the aim of toppling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and replacing it with an Islamic rule instead.
On Wednesday, Assad blamed the violence in Syria on criminals, religious extremists and terrorists sympathetic to al-Qaida. He claimed they are mixed in with peaceful demonstrators.
Syria's private al-Watan daily said Thursday that around 41 unidentified bodies are left at the national hospital in Homs, adding that the province is witnessing spates of kidnapping, killing and attacks on government checkpoints. It said that the northern Idlib province is witnessing similar situation.
The peaceful protests in Syria have turned violent as the government forces have been clashing with anti-regime militia.
However, the Syrian government's repeated claims haven't resonated with the Western powers which insist that the regime and its troops are behind the violence that claimed the lives of "more than 4,000," according to a recent U.N. tally.
In an interview with U.S. media Wednesday, Assad denied ordering a crackdown on anti-government movements, insisting that most of the casualties were from his troops and supporters, according to the U.S. ABC news network.
The victims included 1,100 soldiers and police, he said.
Last week, the European Union, the United States, Turkey and the Arab League slapped new economic sanctions on Damascus to further cripple the Syrian economy. The sanctions were part of punitive measures that had slammed Syria during the months-old unrest over the alleged bloody crackdown on protesters.
In response, Syria suspended last week its membership in the Union for the Mediterranean as well as the Syrian-Turkish free trade agreement. It also imposed a 30-percent tax on Turkish goods.
A Turkish daily said Thursday that Turkey plans to charge a 30- percent tax on goods from Syria in retaliation for the Syrian move.
Turkey has also decided to transport its goods to Middle East and Gulf countries through alternative transit routes other than Syria, according to Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan.
Moreover, Turkish semi-official Anatolia news agency said that Syria on Thursday closed one of its border gates with Turkey as relations of the two countries have been further strained.
A day earlier, Zafer Caglayan downplayed Syria's significance as a transit route for Turkish goods to Middle East and Gulf countries. "We have three alternative routes through Alexandria, Beirut and Iraq and possibly a fourth through the Suez Canal," he said.
On Tuesday, Syria said that its border guards thwarted an infiltration attempt of 35 gunmen, who were trying to sneak into Syria from Turkey, according to SANA.
Citing "well informed sources," SANA said that border troops clashed with an armed group of 35 gunmen and prevented them from entering Syria. It said that a number of gunmen were injured while the others fled toward Turkey.
The Turkish-Syrian relations have hit a new low recently over the unrest in Syria. Turkey accused the Syrian administration of cracking down on civilians, while Damascus accused Ankara of harboring and arming terrorist groups against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.