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EGYPT: Pipeline explosion underlines opposition to gas deal with Israel

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The third attack by saboteurs in six months against the pipeline supplying natural gas to Israel and Jordan underscores security lapses and the opposition of many Egyptians to their nation's contract to ship low-cost energy to Israel.

Early-morning blasts Monday were carried out by masked men who tied up security guards and planted bombs at the Bir el Abd pipeline station near the town of Al Arish in the Sinai Peninsula. The official state news aganecy, MENA, reported that the assailants remotely activated the bombs by firing gunshots. No casualties were reported.

The pipeline was attacked two other times this year: a few days after the Feb. 11 overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak and a second assault on April 27 (pictured) that interrupted supplies to Israel for weeks.

Witnesses said Monday that flames streaked as high as 30 feet. MENA later quoted security sources as saying the incident was a terrorist attack. The fire was under control by Monday afternoon, but officials did not say when gas service would be restored. The Sinai is home to Bedouin tribes that have long complained of discrimination and have often clashed with police and security forces in a region known for weapons trafficking and other smuggling.  

“Whether these attacks are carried out by large groups or individuals, many Egyptians are against supplying Israel with gas,” retired Gen. Mohamed Ali Belal told Babylon and Beyond. “Those who’ve been bombing the pipeline believe that they are fulfilling their national responsibility and playing a part in stopping gas exports to Israel.”

Egypt was the first Arabic nation to sign a peace accord with Israel in 1979, but many Egyptians have never fully embraced normalizing ties with the nation. 

The Egyptian Natural Gas Company GASCO said an unexploded canister was found about half a mile from the bombed site. A security source told MENA that it was too early to determine who was behind the blasts. Prosecutors said, however, that the technique used was the same as in the previous attacks.

Egypt has been providing Israel with about 40% of its natural gas since 2004. But the discounted prices in the Israeli gas contract have further infuriated Egyptians and led to a criminal investigation into a sweetheart deal allegedly orchestrated by Mubarak and his friend gas magnate Hussein Salem. The deal is reported to have cost Egypt tens of millions of dollars in lost revenues.   

Egyptian authorities have kept gas export prices to Israel confidential. Local media estimate between 70 cents and $1.50 per million British gas units (BTUs, or British thermal units) whereas Israeli media cite a higher price of $2.50 to $4 per million BTUs.

In April, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf called for renegotiating the country’s gas export contracts “so that Egyptian gas would be sold with prices that achieve the highest returns" for Egypt. Jordan later announced that such moves were underway, but no details have been announced.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: The April attack on the pipeline carrying gas from Egypt to Israel and Jordan sends up flames. Credit: AFP / Getty Images

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