Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime suffered another blow Thursday, as a pipeline carrying oil to a refinery in violence-plagued Homs province was blown up, allegedly by "an armed terrorist group," according to Damascus.
With a growing number of reports that Syria is moving closer to civil war , U.S. officials are monitoring Assad's large chemical weapons stockpiles amid concerns that Damascus could use the weapons against indigenous protesters or divert them to terror groups such as Hizballah.
The dictator's isolation continues to mount, with the Wall Street Journal reporting Thursday that Turkey will bypass Syria in exporting goods across the Middle East. Ankara's move followed a Syrian border blockade that had left hundreds of vehicles stranded near the boundary between the two nations.
Turkish truck drivers told harrowing stories of violence during recent trips through Syria, which included getting caught in a gun battle near Hama. A trucker said he lost sight in one eye after a beating by Syrian troops.
Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said the Syrian blockade was retaliation for Ankara's decision last week to impose sanctions against the Assad regime. He said Turkey would avoid Syria by sending goods through Iraq via truck and shipping them to Egypt using the Mediterranean port of Mersin .
The Turkish government said it preferred not to take such steps, but Damascus had forced its hand. "They wanted it this way," Caglayan said. "I say again, whatever they do they will suffer more than Turkey every time. To trade with the Middle East and the [Persian] Gulf we do not have to go through Syria. Our A, B and C plans are already ready."
In a somewhat surreal interview with ABC Television's Barbara Walters that aired Wednesday, Assad denied any responsibility for the violence. Responding to a question from Walters about Washington's "misconceptions" about his regime, Assad denied any responsibility for the murderous behavior of his armed forces.
"They are not my forces," he told Walters. "They are forces for the government. I don't own them. I'm president. I don't own the country. So they are not my forces."
"We don't kill," the Syrian strongman continued." It's impossible for anyone in this state to give orders to kill." Assad said that "No government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person."
In an effort to ratchet up political pressure on Assad, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has continued to meet with Syrian opposition groups. The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report (GMBDR)identified one of seven Syrian opposition figures Clinton met with in Geneva Tuesday as Najib Ghadbian, who has been described by the Wall Street Journal as an advocate of U.S. engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. GMBDR reported that in September, Ghadbian appeared with a State Department official at an event endorsed by the Greater Los Angeles Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).