* Pipeline fed refinery in Homs, anti-Assad protest hotbed
* Seven more people killed by snipers, random gunfire
* Opposition movement plans "dignity strike" at weekend
By Dominic Evans
BEIRUT, Dec 8 A Syrian pipeline carrying
oil from the east of the country to a vital refinery in Homs was
blown up on Thursday in what the official news agency SANA said
was an act of sabotage by an armed terrorist group.
Opposition activists said flames and clouds of thick black
smoke were seen at the site of the explosion in a suburb of the
city, the epicentre of popular unrest against Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad that began in March.
"This is the main pipeline that feeds the Homs refinery,"
said Rami Abdulrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory
for Human Rights.
The activist network also reported seven people killed in
Homs on Thursday by snipers and in "random" shootings.
Popular protests began in Syria nine months ago, inspired by
the wave of revolt across the Arab world. The ferocity of
Assad's crackdown on protests triggered desertions from the
armed forces, and now thousands of army defectors have joined a
guerrilla army staging hit-and-run attacks on security forces.
SANA said the pipeline was attacked in the Tal Asour area to
the northwest of the refinery on the outskirts of Homs, a city
of 800,000 where -- activists say -- about 1,500 people have
been killed in the crackdown.
Video on the Internet of the purported blast site showed
enormous billows of black smoke rising above a built-up area by
a railway line. A Syrian army tank was seen close by.
The Homs refinery serves part of Syria's domestic
requirement for refined oil products. In July SANA said
saboteurs blew up an oil export pipeline near Homs which carried
oil from Syria's eastern oilfields to the Mediterranean coast.
NO ORDERS TO KILL
Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for 41 years, has denied
ordering his troops to kill peaceful protesters, saying only a
"crazy" leader kills his own people.
In a television interview with ABC news of the United States
he distanced himself from the actions of the security forces,
saying it was not his personal army -- a disclaimer that
Washington said was simply not credible.
Assad is under growing international pressure, including a
threat of sanctions from the Arab League, to cease violent
repression of protests - in which the United Nations says over
4,000 people have been killed - and negotiate with opponents.
Rejecting criticism of his government's action, he told ABC
News that "most of the people that have been killed are
supporters of the government, not the vice versa".
Syrian activists say around a quarter of the more than 4,500
deaths they have recorded in nine months of protest have been
among the security forces. Most foreign media have been excluded
from Syria, making it hard to verify events independently.
HUB OF CONFLICT
Major Western powers as well as neighbours Turkey and Jordan
are calling on Assad to step down. Turkey imposed a 30 percent
duty on imports from Syria on Wednesday in retaliation for a
similar tax imposed on Turkish goods.
With exports of its oil effectively suspended owing to
sanctions, Syria has plenty of raw petroleum in stock but
limited refining capacity, of which the Homs installation now in
a hub of the conflict is a key part.
Protesters are calling for a peaceful "dignity strike" by
Syrians at the weekend as what organisers say will be the first
stage of a general campaign of civil disobedience.
Schools, universities, shops, public transport and
government services are being urged to refuse work on Sunday and
SANA said the army fought back against gunmen who tried to
block the Aleppo highway in the tense Hama district on
Wednesday, killing one "terrorist".
Experts defused seven improvised bombs in Hama district, it
said. An army pilot was shot in front of his home, it said.
An activist website said an army armoured personnel carrier
was destroyed in clashes between troops and defectors near the
radio station in the city of Saraqeb on the Hama-Aleppo highway.
Heavy gunfire was reported in Hama city on Wednesday afternoon.
The site said three army defectors were killed in a
firefight with regular army units in a rural area of Hama and a
woman was killed by gunfire in the Homs suburb of Al-Hawla.
On the tense border with Turkey, Syrian troops opened fire
in sustained bursts on Wednesday, according to residents of
A member of the Syrian National Council, an exile group
seeking an end to Assad's rule, said the SNC would present a
plan for a transition of power shortly in the next few days.
"The plan will be a sort of roadmap for a peaceful
transition, with article one being that Assad has to resign and
leave," said SNC member Bassma Kodmani.
"We hope that it will be supported by the Arab world and the
international community," she said during a meeting with
European lawmakers in Brussels.
She warned again about the threat of civil war in Syria.
"The first (objective) is the protection of the civilian
population, and putting an end to the killings, which might
bring us into a civil war, into militarisation."
(Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
(Reporting By Douglas Hamilton)