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Syria reports drone attack, fire on oil tanker off coast

Blaze quickly put out; state media says unmanned aircraft came from the direction of Lebanon; pro-opposition group claims vessel is Iranian

A screenshot of video aired by Syrian state TV on April 24, 2021, shows a fire on a ship off the coast of Banyas, which Syria says was apparently started after the ship was attacked by a drone. (Screen capture: Twitter)
A screenshot of video aired by Syrian state TV on April 24, 2021, shows a fire on a ship off the coast of Banyas, which Syria says was apparently started after the ship was attacked by a drone. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Syria’s oil ministry said a fire erupted in a tanker on its coast after what it said was a suspected drone attack on Saturday.

The official state news agency said the fire in the oil tanker, outside the Baniyas refinery, was extinguished. The Syrian state news agency SANA quoted the oil ministry as saying the fire broke out after “what was believed to be an attack by a drone from the direction of Lebanese waters.”

It provided no further details and did not specify where the tanker was arriving from, but the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the tanker was Iranian-owned.

Hebrew media reports late Saturday said the fire apparently had nothing to do with Israel, as some Arab media reports claimed. There were no reports of anyone injured or serious damage to the vessel.

Syria’s oil resources are mostly outside of government-controlled areas but two of its refineries are operating. This makes Damascus reliant on Iran for fuel. But US Treasury sanctions have targeted a network that spanned Syria, Iran and Russia responsible for shipping oil to the Syrian government.

The Banias oil refinery is located in the regime-controlled coastal province of Tartus.

There has been a series of mysterious attacks on vessels in recent months. They have come amid rising tension in the region between Iran, Israel and the United States.

In recent months, at least three Israeli-owned cargo ships have been damaged in alleged Iranian attacks, one in the Gulf of Oman, another as it was sailing to India, and the most recent near the UAE.

Iran has, in turn, blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including the sabotage at its Natanz nuclear facility, and the November 2020 killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago.

In a report published last month that cited US and Middle East officials, the Wall Street Journal said Israel had targeted at least a dozen vessels bound for Syria and mostly carrying Iranian oil since late 2019.

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