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EGYPT: Pipeline blast halts gas exports to Israel, Jordan

April 27, 2011 |  9:16 am

ImageAn attack on a pipeline in the northern Sinai peninsula on Wednesday sent flames and a massive plume of smoke into the sky and cut off Egypt's natural gas supplies to Israel and Jordan for the second time in less than three months, according to the Egyptian Natural Gas Co. (GASCO).

The blast, which rocked the gas terminal of Al Sabil in the early hours of the morning, was described by Gov. Abdel Wahab Mabrouk as an “act of sabotage that didn’t claim lives.” Eyewitnesses said that flames from Al Sabil’s blast reached 65-feet high and startled residents, some of whom fled their homes.

"Valves controlling the flow of gas around the point of explosion were sealed to control the fire,” GASCO chief Magdi Tawfik was quoted as saying by state news agency, MENA. GASCO later announced that the fire was extinguished.

Mabrouk said an investigation found that five saboteurs drove a four-wheel-drive vehicle into the gas terminal, before planting and detonating explosives. They escaped.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred in a region where Bedoiun tribes have often clashed with security forces and complained of discrimination.  

The explosion is the second successful attack against the same pipeline since Feb. 5, when a similar explosion during Egypt’s revolution stopped gas exports to Israel and Jordan for a month. Another failed attempt to bomb the terminal was reported on March 27.

While Jordan depends on Egyptian gas to generate 80% of its power, Israel generates 40% of its electricity using Egyptian gas imports. The repetition of attacks on terminals flowing across Sinai has prompted Israeli officials to suggest seeking alternative sources of energy.

Exporting gas to Israel has long been criticized by many Egyptians, who regard the Jewish state as their enemy despite the Camp David peace accords. An Egyptian court previously banned gas exports to Israel after a lawyer filed suit claiming Egypt was selling the gas at lower than market prices and had locked itself into a 20-year long contract that began in 2005. The ruling was later overruled.

A number of ex-government officials, including former President Hosni Mubarak and his two sons, are being interrogated for receiving illegal kickbacks related to the gas deal with Israel among other corruption charges.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Flames rise into the sky after an  explosion at an Egyptian pipeline Wednesday. Credit: Associated Press

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