Syrian oil well
Syrian oil wellIsrael news photo: SANA

An explosion ripped through a gas pipeline near the town of Rastan in the central Syrian province of Homs on Monday, according to a report by the Reuters news agency.

An eyewitness told the news agency that flames had been seen rising from the site. It was the second reported blast at an energy pipeline in Homs in a week. The first explosion in the same area occurred on Thursday.

Homs has been the focus of a crackdown by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad on anti-regime protesters. Increased fighting has been reported in the area between the army and insurgents in the last few weeks.

Rastan is located some 15 miles north of the provincial capital of Homs on the main Damascus-Aleppo highway and was the site at the end of September of one of the first battles between army defectors and loyalist forces, Reuters reported.

Earlier it was reported that at least seven people were killed as the crackdown continued, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In addition to Homs, the fighting was especially fierce in the northwestern province of Idlib and the southern Dara'a province as the general strike called by protesters in their campaign of civil disobedience entered its second day.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Monday preparations are being made for an influx of refugees into Jordan as Syrians increasingly seek asylum in the neighboring Hashemite Kingdom from the violence.

An opposition leader quoted by Voice of America said Damascus had warned protesters in Homs to surrender their weapons and hand over army defectors by Monday night or facing a bombing campaign by the Syrian Army.

Nevertheless, Syria's Local Coordination Committee has urged local citizens to increase protests incrementally through sit-ins, closures and refusals to work in public offices.

A UN report released Monday said that close to 5,000 people have been killed in protests in Syria since last March. Over 14,000 people have been arrested, and over 12,000 have fled the country, the report said.