An explosion echoed through the area of Tayana in the eastern Syrian province of Dair Azour late Tuesday night when a pipeline caught fire.
The incident, which occurred around midnight, may have been the result of a wildfire that reached the oil pipeline, said SANA, the official Syrian Arab News Agency, quoting an unnamed official. Syrian state officials said the fire was an accident caused by technical mishaps rather than sabotage.
But many doubted the official story.
According to Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the explanation provided by state officials was unlikely, owing in great part to the timing of the explosion.
"It is unlikely that a wildfire is going to start at 11 p.m. in the evening. How can grass surrounding the pipeline catch fire by itself? And if it was really just a fire, why did they wait till today to mention it?" he said.
The impoverished southeast region has been the scene of almost daily protests as Syrian security forces keep a close eye on the area from the outside, surrounding the city. Many are afraid the security forces will use the blast as an excuse to crack down harder.
"The implications of this event are dangerous, irrespective of whoever is behind it," said Abdel Rahman."One of the residents in Tayana heard the sound of a blast and hurried to the tribal chief there to notify him of what he had heard and to tell him that the residents had nothing to do with it."
"There are so many stories. What if it's not an explosion of an oil pipeline? No one buys the narratives propagated by state media and state officials," said Ahed el Hindi, prominent Syrian dissident based in Washington. "But still, it does not suit the regime to look weak at this time."
Protesters have largely observed peaceful protest in the 4-month-long uprising that has consumed various provinces, towns and villages throughout Syria.
"Faced with the question of who was more likely to have done something like this, my answer would be the Syrian regime," said Yaser Tabbara, Syrian lawyer, activist and executive director of the Syrian American Council. "I don't put it beyond the regime to have done this to distract."
-- Roula Hajjar in Beirut