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Syria says pipeline blown up by rebel saboteurs

An oil pipeline explodes near the city of Homs, Syria, sending a huge wall of smoke and flames into the air. Msnbc.com's Al Stirrett reports.

BEIRUT -- A Syrian pipeline carrying crude from oilfields in the east of the country was blown up near the restive city of Homs Thursday, according to anti-government activists and the official news agency SANA.

Clouds of thick black smoke billowed over a high-rise suburb of the city, the epicenter of popular unrest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that began in March.

Refinery towers and storage tanks were visible in the background of one SANA photograph.

Rami Abdulrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the pipeline fed a refinery in Homs.

But SANA said an armed terrorist group had attacked a section of pipeline taking crude beyond Homs directly to Banias on the Mediterranean coast.

Homs is a city of 800,000 people where activists say about 1,500 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on anti-government protests.

"Authorities rushed to the spot, extinguished the fire, stopped pumping oil into the targeted pipeline and shifted it to alternative pipes," the agency said.

The Homs refinery serves part of Syria's domestic requirement for oil products. Saboteurs had already blown up the pipeline to the coast near Homs in July, according to SANA.

The Observatory network reported that nine people had been killed in Homs Thursday by snipers and in "random" shootings.