"It is a very dangerous process that has injured many people," he said.
An amateur video posted online showed crowds of people at a field in Deir el-Zour gathered at a pool of crude, filling buckets or pumping it into tanker trucks to take to makeshift refineries. The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the events depicted.
On Sunday, the state news agency accused rebels of setting fire to three oil wells in Deir el-Zour. It said the fire caused a daily loss of 4,670 barrels of oil and 52 cubic meters of natural gas. It accused "terrorists," the government's term for rebels, of setting the fires after fighting among themselves about how to divide the oil. Oil Minister Suleiman Abbas told the government Al-Thawra daily that an estimated 750,000 barrels of oil have been lost from fires and other damage.
The loss of oil revenues has been a further blow to government coffers, depriving it of a major source of hard currency at a time when it is straining at the cost of the war. Syria's currency, the lira, has plummeted more than 80 percent in comparison to the dollar.
The U.S. and European Union banned Syrian oil exports in 2011, depriving Syria of its main European customers. Since then, exports have come practically to a halt as the falling production is put to domestic needs. Attacks on oil pipelines and infrastructure have been causing shortages for Syrians throughout the uprising. People wait for hours in lines to fill their vehicles' gas tanks, and hours of electricity cuts every day are more common because it is more difficult to supply power stations with fuel.
A cooking gas canister that went for around $5 before the crisis started now sells five times that price, while the price of a liter of gasoline (around a quarter of a gallon) has double to the equivalent of $2.