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Syria Blames Oil Pipeline Explosion on Sabotage December 8, 2011

There has been a major explosion in a Syrian pipeline carrying oil to a refinery near the restive city of Homs. This, as violence from the country’s nine-month uprising escalates.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the report, but gave no cause for the blast. The state-run SANA news agency blamed “an armed terrorist group” for the attack, calling it an act of sabotage.

A video on the Internet from opposition activists, and obtained by Reuters, shows massive flames and an enormous cloud of black smoke billowing into the sky outside Homs. Two similar explosions on Syrian oil pipelines occurred in July.

The observatory also said at least seven people were killed by sniper fire and “arbitrary” shooting on Thursday in Homs. A series of kidnappings, random shootings and revenge killings plagued the city earlier this week, as authorities continued their crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied that he ordered the killing of thousands of anti-government protesters.  He spoke in an interview with a U.S. journalist aired on Wednesday.

Assad told ABC News he does not control the forces implementing his country’s brutal crackdown. The Syrian leader said there is “a big difference” between having “a policy to crack down and having mistakes committed by some officials.”

The United Nations reports that at least 4,000 people have been killed since the unrest erupted in March.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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Assad Denies Responsibility for Syrian Protest Deaths

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied he ordered the killing of thousands of anti-government protesters, telling a U.S. journalist he does not control the forces implementing his country’s brutal crackdown.

In a rare interview that aired Wednesday, Assad told ABC News that although he is president he does not “own the country, so they are not my forces.” The Syrian leader said there is “a big difference” between having “a policy to crack down and having mistakes committed by some officials.”

Assad questioned the U.N. death toll of 4,000 since unrest erupted in March, saying most victims were government supporters. He also denied the veracity of claims that Hamza al-Khateeb, 13, whose death galvanized protests and inflamed world opinion was killed after being shot, burned and castrated.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner repeated the U.S. view that Assad is engaged in a brutal crackdown on a peaceful opposition movement.  He said he finds it “ludicrous” that the Syrian president is “attempting to hide behind a sort of shell game and claim he does not exercise authority in his own country.”

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a rare meeting with seven Syrian opposition leaders in Geneva as the U.S. and French ambassadors returned to Damascus after an extended absence.

Clinton told senior members of the Syrian National Council – all exiles in Europe – that a democratic transition involves more than removing Assad’s regime. She said “it means setting the country on the path of the rule of law and protecting the universal rights of all citizens.”

The top U.S. diplomat said the opposition understands that Syrian minorities needed to be reassured they would be better off under a government of tolerance and freedom.

Assad is a member of the minority Shi’ite Alawite sect, while most Syrians are Sunni Muslims. The country is also home to a number of other religious and ethnic minorities, including Christians and Kurds.

Meanwhile, violence in Syria escalated sharply Monday, with activists reporting more than 50 deaths as the central city of Homs was convulsed by a series of kidnappings, random shootings and revenge killings. Thirty-four of the dead were shot execution style, their bodies dumped in the streets.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called it “one of the deadliest days since the start of the Syrian Revolution.”

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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Syria’s Assad Disclaims Responsibility for Protest Deaths December 7, 2011

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied responsibility for the killing of thousands of anti-government protesters, telling a U.S. journalist he does not control the forces implementing his country’s brutal crackdown.

In a rare interview to air Wednesday, President Assad tells ABC News that although he is president he does not “own the country, so they’re not my forces.”

The Syrian leader is quoted as saying there is “a big difference” between having “a policy to crack down and having mistakes committed by some officials.”

Prior to the broadcast of the interview, an ABC news reporter brought up Assad’s comments at the U.S. State Department briefing.  Spokesman Mark Toner responded by saying there is no indication Assad “is doing anything other than cracking down in the most brutal fashion on a peaceful opposition movement.”

Toner said he finds it “ludicrous” that the Syrian president is “attempting to hide behind a sort of shell game (charade) and claim he does not exercise authority in his own country.”

Also Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a rare meeting with seven Syrian opposition leaders in Geneva as the U.S. and French ambassadors returned to Damascus after an extended absence.

Clinton told senior members of the Syrian National Council – all exiles in Europe – that a democratic transition is more than removing Assad’s regime. She said “it means setting the country on the path of the rule of law and protecting the universal rights of all citizens, regardless of sect or ethnicity or gender.”

The top U.S. diplomat said the opposition understood Syrian minorities needed to be reassured they would be better off “under a regime of tolerance and freedom.” The SNC also outlined a transition plan involving the handover of power to a provisional government and the departure of Assad, his family and close aides.

The Syrian leader is a member of the minority Shi’ite Alawite sect, while most Syrians are Sunni Muslims. The country is also home to a number of other religious and ethnic minorities, including Christians and Kurds.

Meanwhile, Syria’s sectarian violence escalated sharply Monday, with activists reporting more than 50 deaths as the central city of Homs was convulsed by a series of kidnappings, random shootings and revenge killings. Thirty-four of the dead were shot execution style, their bodies dumped in the streets.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called it “one of the deadliest days since the start of the Syrian Revolution.”

Assad’s government received words of support from Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday.

During a speech in Beirut marking the Shi’ite ritual of Ashura, Nasrallah lashed out against the United States, accusing it of seeking to destroy Syria. He said he is in favor of Assad’s plans for reform.   

The United States and its allies have been trying to isolate the Assad government in response to its nine-month crackdown on protests.

The United Nations estimates that unrest-related violence in Syria has killed more than 4,000 people since the uprising began in March.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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At Least 13 Killed in Syrian Protest Violence November 12, 2011

Human rights activists say Syrian forces have killed at least 13 people during anti-government protests around the country Friday, as the government faces new accusations that it may be guilty of “crimes against humanity.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says most of Friday’s casualties occurred in the Homs region.  Security forces have launched a series of raids in the city in search of dissidents, and activists said Syrian soldiers also were killed in an apparent ambush.

The casualty figures could not be independently verified because Syria bars most foreign journalists from operating in the country.

The fresh violence coincides with the Friday release of a Human Rights Watch report, saying Syrian authorities may be guilty of crimes against humanity for alleged torture and unlawful killings.

Human rights groups and opposition leaders to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have urged the demonstrators to call for a suspension of Syria’s Arab League membership.  The 22-member league will hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on Saturday to discuss Syria’s unrest.

That meeting follows an apparent breakdown of the Arab-League brokered agreement that calls on the Syrian government to end its brutal crackdown on dissent.

Earlier this month, Syria announced that it had agreed to the plan, which includes a withdrawal of security forces from the streets and talks with the opposition. However, activists and witnesses have reported continued violence.

On Thursday, Amnesty International called on the Arab League to press Syria to allow independent monitors to enter the country.

Earlier in the week, the U.N. human rights office said at least 3,500 people had been killed in the country since protests against President Assad began in March.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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Opposition, Rights Group Urge Arab League to Suspend Syria November 11, 2011

Syrian opposition activists say they will use protests planned for Friday to call for a suspension of the country’s Arab League membership.

The move comes as the 22-member League prepares for an emergency meeting in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the apparent breakdown of an agreement with Damascus to end the government’s brutal crackdown on dissent.

Earlier this month, Syria agreed to a plan that calls for the withdrawal of security forces from the streets and talks with the opposition. However, activists and witnesses have reported continued violence.

Human Rights Watch has echoed the call for Syria’s Arab League suspension. In a Friday report, the group said Damascus may be guilty of crimes against humanity for alleged tortures and unlawful killings.

Activists say at least 33 people were killed on Thursday. They say many of the deaths took place in the Homs region, a flashpoint where security forces have launched a series of raids in search of dissidents.  Activists also say Syrian soldiers were killed in an apparent ambush.  

The casualty figures could not be independently verified because Syria bars most foreign journalists from operating in the country.

On Thursday, the Amnesty International rights group called on the Arab League to press Syria to allow independent monitors to enter the country.

Earlier this week, the U.N. human rights office said at least 3,500 people had been killed in the country since protests against President Bashar al-Assad began in March.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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