At least three people have been killed in a suspected attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Syria, a monitoring group says.
Syria’s oil ministry said firefighters on Saturday put out a fire on the tanker off the Baniyas refinery after a suspected attack by a drone coming from the direction of Lebanese waters.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least three people died onboard.
The rights group did not say who was to blame for the attack or whether the damage had been caused by a drone or a missile.
The identity of the vessel was unclear, with Iran’s al-Alam TV saying it was one of three Iranian oil tankers that had recently arrived at the Syrian oil terminal, while the semi-official news agency Tasnim denied it was Iranian.
TankerTrackers said in a tweet that “the tanker seen burning today off the coast of Baniyas is not an Iranian vessel”, but Beirut-registered.
The tanker seen burning today off the coast of Baniyas is not an Iranian vessel, but a Beirut-registered tanker called WISDOM. She has assisted the Iranian VLCC supertanker ARMAN 114 (ex. ADRIAN DARYA-1) by offloading 300-350K barrels at a time due to depth restrictions. #OOTT pic.twitter.com/tv6lH38IHq— TankerTrackers.com, Inc.⚓️🛢 (@TankerTrackers) April 24, 2021
Syria’s coastal town of Baniyas houses a refinery, which along with another in Homs, covers a significant part of the country’s demand for diesel, heating fuel, gasoline and other petroleum products, according to industry experts.
The war-torn country has faced gasoline and fuel shortages over the past year, with supplies rationed in government-held areas and prices hiked.
Syria has grown more dependent on Iranian oil shipments in recent years but tightening Western sanctions on Iran, Syria and their allies, as well as a foreign currency crunch, have made it more difficult to get enough supplies.
Syrian state news agency SANA, which cited the oil ministry statement, gave no further details about what it said was a drone attack.
Iran’s Arabic-language al-Alam TV said there was some damage to an Iranian tanker but no casualties.
But Iran’s Tasnim news agency, quoting “certain sources”, said: “The accident happened to another vessel … and is not linked to a ship carrying Iranian cargo”.
The pro-Damascus al-Mayadeen TV said the tanker was suspected to have been hit by an Israeli drone.
The Israeli military declined to comment on the incident.
Israel has expanded strikes on Iranian targets, including suspected weapons production centres in Syria, to repel what it sees as a military encroachment by its regional arch enemy, Western and regional intelligence sources said.
Iran threatens to retaliate against Israel over attack
Iran’s top military general on Sunday threatened to retaliate against Israel after an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Syria was attacked on Saturday, killing three people on the vessel.
“Israelis think they can keep hitting Syria and make mischievous moves elsewhere and in the seas and not receive any response,” Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces Mohammed Hussein Baqeri said.
“The moves made in the past few days and future moves against their interests will make them be wise.”
“We don’t announce anything about the incidents that happened recently, nor do we know who did it, but the resistance front will teach a very good lesson to Israel,” he continued, in a possible reference to Hezbollah
The Iranian army chief also promised that “if Israel’s actions against Iran” continue, it’s “not clear how Iran will respond, but Israel won’t remain calm.”
According to Syria’s SANA news agency, the vessel was attacked with an alleged drone strike purportedly coming from over the Lebanese territorial waters. The three people on the ship, that were reportedly killed were Syrian,