Attacks Hit Syrian Oil and Gas Sites Under Government Control as U.S. Military Maintains Hold on Energy Facilities in East

A series of unclaimed terrorist attacks has hit oil and gas facilities in central and western Syria in recent weeks, areas under the control of the country's government.

The attacks come as the U.S. military continues to maintain control over oil and gas sites in the east.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry sent a letter Wednesday to the United Nations Security Council blaming "terrorist groups" and their alleged foreign backers for acts of sabotage targeting its energy infrastructure. The official Syrian Arab News Agency reported rebel drone strikes Tuesday against the Al-Rayyan gas station, South Central Region Gas Factory, Ebla Gas Factory and Homs Refinery in Homs province, as well as an underwater bombing last week against a Mediterranean Sea pipeline at the Baniyas Marine Terminal in Tartous.

The Al-Rayyan gas station and South Central Region Gas Factory were also reportedly targeted in December and the Baniyas Marine Terminal once before in June. Suspected saboteurs named have not been named.

"In the face of these repeated and deliberate attacks on oil and economic establishments, the Syrian Arab Republic reserves the right to require countries that provide all forms of support to armed terrorist groups to pay compensation to Syria as a result of this systematic destruction as a right pursuant to international law and requests these countries to immediately stop these practices that destroy the capabilities of the Syrian people, prolongs the crisis and slows down the recovery process," the Syrian Foreign Ministry wrote.

Damascus has also repeatedly called for the Pentagon to pull its roughly 800 U.S. troops out of the country but President Donald Trump has remained adamant in maintaining control over oil and gas fields in northeastern regions under the self-run administration of the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces. Discussing Syria last month at a press conference in Switzerland, the president said: "We left soldiers for the oil, because we took the oil."

"We're working on that," Trump added, "And we have it very nicely secured."

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An image shared January 28 by the state-owned Syrian Company for Oil Transport show what is purported to be a damaged pipeline off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea at the Baniyas Marine Terminal in Tartus province. Syrian Company for Oil Transport

Syria's infrastructure and economy have been devastated by nearly nine years of civil war between multiple factions.

The Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad and backed by Russia and Iran, has managed to largely defeat a rebel and jihadi uprising once backed by the U.S. and its allies but now mostly supported by Turkey. The Pentagon now mainly backs the Syrian Democratic Forces, which control up to a third of the country and also have some security arrangements with the Syrian and Russian militaries to shield Kurdish fighters from Turkey and its local insurgent allies.

Defeating the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) remains the only official mission of the U.S. and its coalition allies in Syria. Still, the Trump administration has increasingly sought to also limit Iranian influence there and adversaries' access to the country's natural resources, over which he said he may make a deal.

A senior Pentagon official and a Syrian observer with knowledge of the country's oil trade told Newsweek in November that the Syrian Democratic Forces have continued to sell oil to Assad's administration in spite of international sanctions against the latter. This relationship, and the ongoing presence of various oil smuggling networks destined for Turkey and elsewhere, was also featured in the most recent report released Thursday by the lead inspector general for the U.S. military's Operation Inherent Resolve.

Moscow and Tehran also have major stakes in Syria's energy sector. The Syrian parliament approved exclusive oil and gas contracts for two Russian companies in December, while the U.S. and the U.K. accused Iran of defying Western restrictions by shipping oil to Syria.

ISIS once held a large portion of Syria's oil and gas resources, using it to help fund the militants' so-called "caliphate" that expanded into neighboring Iraq. The U.S.-led coalition, Russia, Iran and their respective local partners all contributed to the group's defeat, though the jihadis have continued to stage isolated attacks even after their leader's death in October during a U.S. raid in Idlib.

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A U.S. military armored vehicle drives in a patrol past an oil well in Rmeilan in Syria's northeastern Hasakah province on November 6, 2019. Syria and its Russian and Iranian allies have called on President Donald Trump to withdraw his armed forces the country, where they operated without Damascus' permission. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images

The northwestern province is the last where Syrian opposition groups wield significant influence. Pro-government forces and mostly Islamist insurgents such as the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham coalition have continued to clash here in spite of successive truces brokered by Russia and Turkey, both of which claim to be upholding their end of their agreements.

Syrian troops and their allies have continued to advance across Idlib in spite of a recent deadly exchange between the Syrian and Turkish militaries.

Assad has vowed to retake the entirety of the country, including oil and gas sites under the Syrian Democratic Forces' control, by diplomacy or force. He has called on Kurdish units to officially join the Syrian armed forces in exchange for limited self-rule, an offer they have so far not accepted.

Though the Syrian government has consolidated control over most of the country, military positions associated with Iran and its allied militias continued to face semi-regular attacks from Israel. On Wednesday, Syria's Al-Ikhbariya news outlet reported that Syrian air defense units responded to an Israeli attack against Al-Kiswa, Marj al-Sultan, Baghdad Bridge and South Azra in the Damascus countryside.