Blasts hit Egypt's gas pipeline to Israel, Jordan

CAIRO Thu Nov 10, 2011 4:35pm IST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Saboteurs blew up a Sinai pipeline on Thursday, halting gas supplies from Egypt to Israel and Jordan in the sixth such attack since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian security sources and witnesses said.

Two blasts were set off by remote control, one in the Mazar area, 30 km (18 miles) west of al-Arish, and a smaller one near a pumping station west of the northern Sinai town. Pumping had only resumed on Oct. 24 after repairs from a previous attack.

"Primary examination showed that improvised explosive devices were put under the pipeline and were detonated from a distance," a security source said. "The attackers used two trucks and extended wires were found at the scene."

Residents in al-Arish said they could see flames after the blasts. Witnesses told state news agency MENA that security forces and fire fighters had controlled the blaze. MENA said it was not clear if the pumping station had been damaged.

No group has claimed responsibility for the series of pipeline attacks since a popular uprising toppled Mubarak in February. One attack took place before he was ousted.

BEDOUIN COMPLAIN OF NEGLECT

Local Bedouin complain the authorities have neglected the isolated Sinai for decades. Some have taken to smuggling and gun-running to scrape a living.

The government's grip on Sinai loosened after Mubarak's fall as the police presence thinned out across the country.

In August, Egyptian armed forces launched a security sweep to root out suspected Islamist gangs and, according to security sources at the time, captured a group of four Islamist militants as they prepared to blow up the gas pipeline in al-Arish.

Egyptian officials say limits on troop numbers in Sinai under a 1979 peace treaty with Israel make it harder to secure the large desert peninsula.

Egypt's 20-year gas deal with Israel, signed in the Mubarak era, is unpopular with the Egyptian public, with critics arguing that the Jewish state was not paying enough for the gas.

An executive of the East Mediterranean Gas Co (EMG), which exports Egyptian gas to Israel, said in July that international shareholders in the firm were pursuing legal claims against Egypt for $8 billion in damages from contract violations in gas supplies, following disruptions caused by pipeline attacks.

Egypt doubled the price of gas exported to Jordan last month. Petroleum Minister Abdullah Ghorab said the new price was just above $5 per million BTU, up from $2.15 to $2.30.

The government said this month it would tighten security measures along the pipeline by installing alarm devices and recruiting security patrols from Bedouin tribesmen.

Previous explosions have closed the pipeline, run by Gasco, Egypt's gas transport company, a subsidiary of the national gas company EGAS, for weeks.

(Reporting by Tamim Elyan, Yusri Mohamed and Dina Zayed; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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