NEW YORK (AP) -- Oil rose to the highest level since January amid concerns about a possible escalation in Syria's civil war.

Benchmark oil for July delivery rose $1.16 to close at $97.85 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil finished the week with a gain of $1.82 a barrel, or 1.9 percent.

President Barack Obama's decision, revealed Thursday, to provide some weapons to rebels fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad came after the White House said it had convincing evidence that Assad's regime -- which has been supported by Russia, Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah -- had used chemical weapons against the opposition.

The Middle East is a key source of crude oil and important transit routes cross the region, so conflicts which threaten disruptions in crude production or supply usually push oil prices higher.

"The possibility of unrest spreading into larger oil-producing regions such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq" induced some buying Friday, said Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates. However, he said, "the current large amount of unused OPEC productive capacity provides a sizable cushion against any temporary loss of supply from countries other than Saudi Arabia."

Oil's closing price was the highest since Jan. 30. But U.S. stock markets fell following lackluster reports on consumer confidence and industrial production. Among other commodities, gold and silver rose, while the prices for industrial metals dropped.

Drivers head into the weekend paying around the same for gas as they did a week ago. The national average of $3.625 is about 9 cents higher than at this time last year.

Meanwhile Brent crude, a benchmark for many international oil varieties, rose 98 cents to end at $105.93 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on the Nymex:

  • Wholesale gasoline rose 4 cents to finish at $2.90 a gallon.
  • Heating oil added 2 cents to end at $2.96 per gallon.
  • Natural gas fell 8 cents to finish at $3.73 per 1,000 cubic feet.


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