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Syria underwater oil pipelines sabotaged amid fuel shortages

Five underwater pipelines off the coast of Banias in northwestern Syria were attacked in an act of sabotage over the weekend, Syria's oil ministry has announced.

Although it was not clear who was behind the act and no group has claimed responsibility, Oil Minister Ali Ghanem has called the incident a "terrorist attack".

Syria has been beset by fuel shortages since the European Union (EU), the UN and the US imposed sanctions on the country, including trade restrictions, travel bans and asset freezes on certain individuals in response to atrocities carried out by the Syrian regime.

In April, images circulated on social media of hundreds of cars waiting in line at a petrol station in Syrian capital Damascus after owners of private cars were given an allowance of 20 litres of fuel every five days.

Last winter, the Syrian regime introduced rationing for cooking gas.

Since 2013 Syria's supply has been met by its ally Iran at a rate of one to three million barrels a month, but after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal the US has tightened energy sanctions in a bid to push Iran's crude exports to zero.

Due to increased pressure, Iranian oil stopped being delivered to Syria in October last year. However, tanker-tracking firms believe that in May Iran delivered one million barrels of crude oil into the Banias port.

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This is the first attack on underwater pipelines since the start of the Syrian war. In December 2011 the pipeline in Homs province was bombed and blamed by the state-run media news agency SANA on an armed terrorist group.

The Syrian regime has repeatedly portrayed its offensive in the country as a battle against terrorism.

At the time, the Local Co-ordination Committees – which organised the popular protests against Al-Assad's regime – blamed the government for deliberately destroying it.

In February 2012, an explosion hit the pipeline in Homs in the then opposition stronghold of Bab Amro, near Homs, which was under heavy bombardment and rocket fire by Assad forces.

According to the Associated Press, pre-2011 Syria was producing 350,000 barrels of oil per day and exporting over half of it. This has dropped to 24,000 barrels a day, which falls short of the 136,000 barrels required.

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