SINGAPORE, July 24 (AFP): Oil prices were easier in Asian trade today after the weekend brought no major changes in the Middle East crisis, dealers said.
New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in September, was at 74.31 dollars a barrel, down from 74.43 dollars in late US trades Friday.
Brent North Sea crude for September delivery was at 73.66 dollars, down nine cents.
The market was weaker as participants closed long (buy) positions taken out Friday in anticipation of major Middle East developments over the weekend, said Dariusz Kowalczyk, senior investment strategist at CFC Seymour in Hong Kong.
Those major developments did not materialize.
"On the other hand, the medium-term picture deteriorated," Kowalczyk said.
Support for prices came from "some disappointment" that a visit by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Middle East was unlikely to see a de-escalation in the conflict between Israel and the militant Islamic group Hezbollah, he said.
Rice had vehemently opposed a ceasefire as a "false promise" but later Monday, on her way to Israel, said "a ceasefire is urgent. It is however important to have conditions that make it sustainable."
At least twelve civilians, including a Lebanese press photographer, were killed Sunday in new Israeli air strikes across Lebanon on the 12th day of Israel's punishing war on Hezbollah.
Oppenheimer analyst Fadel Gheit said "prices are not likely to budge from the current level any time soon. The world is not a safer place. The global tension level has increased."
A ceasefire "might calm the market by a dollar or two," Gheit added.