Electricity Cut in Syria After Explosion Hits Gas Pipeline

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- An explosion early on Monday struck a gas pipeline in a Damascus suburb, causing a huge fire and cutting off electricity throughout Syria, state media reported, citing the country's electricity and oil ministers.

The oil minister, Ali Ghanem, said the explosion struck the line that feeds three power stations in southern Syria and that it could have been a “terrorist act” but did not elaborate.

Syria's oil and gas infrastructure has been hit over the past years by acts of sabotage but no one has ever claimed responsibility for such attacks. The nine-year civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people has also badly affected oil and gas fields, many of which are outside government control.

The state news agency SANA quoted Electricity Minister Zuhair Kharbotli as saying the explosion on the “Arab Gas Pipeline” occurred after midnight Sunday between the northeastern Damascus suburbs of Adra and Dumair.

He said it was the sixth time the pipeline was hit. Technicians are working to fix the problems and electricity should be restored in the coming hours, he said.

In Geneva, U.S. Syria envoy James Jeffrey said the attack was “almost certainly a strike" by the Islamic State group, which was defeated in Syria last year but its sleeper cells are still active and carry out attacks.

Jeffrey, who is in Switzerland for the start of U.N.-mediated talks involving Syrian government, opposition and civil society delegations to discuss a possible new constitution, said the militant group has had an upsurge in desert areas in eastern and southeastern Syria near the border with Jordan and Iraq.

The U.N.-led process has produced few concrete results so far.

IS militants have claimed responsibility for attacks over the past months that killed scores of government troops as well as members of the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

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, while most Syrian oil fields are controlled by Kurdish-led fighters in the country's east.