BEIRUT (AFP) – At least three people died when an Iranian tanker was attacked off Syria’s coast on Saturday (April 24), in the first assault of its kind since the war started a decade ago, a war monitor said.
“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.
It was not clear who carried out the attack, the war monitor said.
“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 not clear if a drone or a missile was used in the attack, the Observatory said.
State news agency Sana, quoting the oil ministry, said the fire erupted after “what was believed to be an attack by a drone from the direction of Lebanese waters”.
The flames were later extinguished.
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.
Hundreds of Israeli air strikes have also struck Syria since the war began in 2011, mostly targeting Damascus regime allies from Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and Syrian government troops.
The Banias oil refinery is located in the regime-controlled coastal province of Tartus.
“It’s the first such attack on an oil tanker, but the Banias terminal has been targeted in the past,” Abdel Rahman said.
Early last year, Damascus said divers had planted explosives on offshore pipelines of the Banias refinery, but the damage had not halted operations.
And in February 2020, four oil and gas sites in the central province of Homs were attacked by armed drones, sparking fires and causing material damage.
Saturday’s attack comes after a Syrian officer was killed and three soldiers wounded Thursday in strikes launched by Israel, after a