Attack on Iran fuel tanker off Syria coast kills 3

Beirut, Lebanon: At least three people were killed when an Iranian tanker was bombed off the coast of Syria on Saturday, the first such attack since the war began a decade ago, according to a war monitor.

"At least three Syrians were killed, including two members of the crew" in the attack that sparked a fire, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

According to the war monitor, it was unclear who carried out the attack.

"We don't know if this was an Israeli attack," Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that "the Iranian tanker came from Iran and was not far from Banias port".

It was also unclear if the attack was carried out with a drone or a rocket, according to the Observatory.

According to the oil ministry, the fire started after "what was suspected to be an assault by a drone from the direction of Lebanese waters." The fires were eventually extinguished.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month, citing the US and Middle Eastern officials, that Israel had targeted at least a dozen vessels bound for Syria, most of which were carrying Iranian crude, since late 2019.

Since the war began in 2011, Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes against Syria, mostly targeting Damascus regime allies Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, as well as Syrian government forces.

The regime-controlled coastal province of Tartus is home to the Banias oil refinery.

"This is the first such attack on an oil tanker, but the Banias terminal has been attacked before," Abdel Rahman said.

Damascus said early last year that divers had planted explosives on the Banias refinery's offshore pipelines, but the damage had not halted operations.

In February 2020, armed drones targeted four oil and gas sites in the central province of Homs, sparking fires and causing material harm.

Nuclear facility 

Saturday's attack comes after an Israeli strike killed a Syrian officer and injured three soldiers on Thursday after a missile was fired at a secretive nuclear site in the Jewish state.

The Israeli army said at the time that a surface-to-air missile had been launched from Syria toward the southern Negev desert, which houses the Dimona nuclear reactor.

The exchange of fire came less than two weeks after Iran accused Israel of "terrorism" in the aftermath of an explosion at the Islamic Republic's nuclear facility in Natanz.

Israel is widely regarded as the Middle East's leading military force, and it is widely assumed that it possesses the region's only nuclear arsenal.

It has never revealed its nuclear arsenal, but international analysts estimate that the Jewish state possesses between 100 and 300 nuclear warheads.

On the Israeli side, there were no immediate reports of casualties or injury.

Israel has long tried to prevent Iran from gaining a foothold in war-torn Syria.

Prior to the Syrian war, the country had relative energy autonomy, but output has plummeted during the conflict, forcing the government to rely on hydrocarbon imports.

Western oil shipping restrictions, as well as US punitive measures against Iran, have made these imports more difficult.

Syria's pre-war production was 400,000 barrels per day (bpd).

However, it was just 89,000 bpd in 2020, according to Syria's oil minister in February, with up to 80,000 bpd coming from Kurdish areas outside government control.

COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF THE NEW ARAB

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