Syria pipeline explodes as Arab League mission limps on

The government blamed a Syria pipeline explosion today on 'terrorists.' Meanwhile, concerns mount that the Arab League mission to Syria won't stop the fighting.

Black smoke is seen from Homs refinery in Syria last month, after a Syrian pipeline carrying oil from the east of the country to a refinery in Homs was blown up. Since the uprising began in mid-March, there have been at least five pipeline explosions.

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The Syrian government blamed terrorists for the explosion of a gas pipeline in central Syria on Tuesday.

As the country has spiraled deeper into war between his regime and his domestic opponents, President Bashar al-Assad has accused terrorist groups and foreign agitators of causing the violence. Opposition groups say that Mr. Assad is playing to people’s fears and seeking to use incidents like this explosion as a ploy to strengthen his base of support.

The explosion occurred in the town of Rastan in Homs province, one of the most violent in Syria. Since the uprising began in mid-March, there have been at least five pipeline explosions, reports Xinhua. With the situation in Syria increasingly resembling a civil war, The Daily Telegraph reports that it remains unclear who was behind the pipeline attacks.

News of the pipeline incident came as the Arab League monitoring team in Syria faces mounting allegations that it has done little to improve the situation since its arrival last week. On Monday the head of the Arab League admitted that Syrian forces are still killing protesters.

“The Arab League has fallen victim to the regime's typical traps, in which observers have no choice but to witness regime-staged events, and move about the country only with the full knowledge of the regime,” said a statement by the Local Coordinating Committees, a group of Syrian activists, reported by the Associated Press. “This has rendered the observers unable to work or move independently or in a neutral manner.”

France’s foreign minister has publicly stated he is “skeptical” of the mission, but members of the Arab League have defended it, saying that it has resulted in the withdrawal of tanks from cities and the release of political prisoners. Nabil al-Arabi, chief of the Arab League, told Agence France-Presse that he planned to raise concerns about on-going violence with Assad, saying, “the aim is to stop the shooting and protect civilians.” Still he added that “it is difficult to say who is firing on whom.”

The Arab monitoring mission has also taken considerable criticism for appointing Lt. Gen. Muhammad Ahmed al-Dabi of Sudan, an Arab League member, as the head of the Syria delegation. The general formerly ran Sudan’s military intelligence agency; human rights activists have accused him of enforcing brutal government crackdowns. Mr. Dabi’s history has led to questions whether he can objectively assess the situation in Syria, which he has thus far downplayed.

“I don’t know if they looked into his background,” said Faisal Mohammed Salih, a columnist with the Sudanese newspaper Al Akhbar in an interview with The New York Times. “This is a human rights mission. They should have chosen someone who is sensitive to human rights issues. Military men in the Arab world should be the last choice for such missions.”

Amid the ongoing bloodshed, some are now wondering if the situation will require the intervention of international forces to bring an end to the fighting.

“I don't think they [the Arab League observers] are capable of doing anything. A different strategy that would rely on the Syrian people themselves to be able to mount their own uprising to overthrow the regime could have been the real strategy. Otherwise the affairs of running Syria and undertaking change in the country are going to be left, like in Libya, to NATO,” said Asad Abukhalil, a professor of political science at California State University during an interview with Al Jazeera.

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