World oil prices rose sharply Thursday as trader sentiment was jarred by simmering geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly in Libya and Syria. In London midday trade, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in May added $1.07 to $116.20 a barrel. New York's main contract, light sweet crude for May, won 99 cents to $105.26. "Crude oil prices rebounded strongly amid ongoing political unrest across Middle East that continue to raise concerns about the oil supplies for the near-term," said Sucden analyst Myrto Sokou.
Libyan rebels fought running street battles on Thursday for the eastern town of Brega, with forces loyal to Moamer Kadhafi driving around and shooting at people. A day after Kadhafi's forces overran Brega along with Ras Lanuf and Uqayla, scattering the outgunned rebels, the frontline ebbed and flowed on the outskirts of the town about 800 kilometres (500 miles) from Tripoli. Clashes also ensued around an oil terminal, but it was unclear who was in control of the town, which the rebels had seized back at the weekend, only to be driven back again on Wednesday.
Across in Syria, protesters called for rallies after weekly Muslim prayers on Friday, upping the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad after he dashed hopes of an end to decades of emergency rule. Assad is facing domestic pressure unprecedented in his 11-year rule as protests demanding greater freedoms in the country, which has been in a state of emergency for close to 50 years, enter a third week.
Sokou added that the oil market outlook was uncertain amid the ongoing Middle East turmoil, and in the wake of Japan's deadly March 11 earthquake and tsunami that has sparked a nuclear disaster. "The current (oil) market conditions have been very uncertain and unpredictable," added Sokou. "Investors have a 'wait and see' approach, due to the ongoing political unrest in Middle East and the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, that raised further concerns about the global economic recovery," he underlined. "However, amid these tentative economic conditions, crude oil prices hold fairly strong above $100 per barrel, continuing their upside momentum."
Traders also drew comfort from strong private sector jobs data for last month, analysts said. Wall Street made solid gains on Wednesday after payrolls firm ADP reported that US companies added 201,000 jobs in March, suggesting the ailing labour market had turned a corner. The figures also provided optimism for the government's keenly watched jobs data due out on Friday.