Saboteurs bomb Egypt gas pipeline to Israel, Jordan 27Apr11 April 28, 2011

Ma’an News Agency -  27 April 2011

Saboteurs bombed an Egyptian gas pipeline in the Sinai on Wednesday, sending flames shooting into the sky and cutting supplies to Israel and Jordan.

It was the second attack since February and came two weeks after Egypt’s new government decided to review all contracts to supply gas abroad, including to neighbors Israel and Jordan, amid corruption probes.

Officials said the attack took place at dawn near Al-Sabil village in the El-Arish region.

On March 27, exactly a month earlier, six armed men stormed the gas terminal in the northern Sinai town and placed explosive devices which failed to explode.

Wednesday’s bomb was activated remotely, a security official told AFP, while the state-run MENA news agency reported flames as high as 20 meters shooting from the ruptured pipeline.

MENA said armed forces rushed to the scene and quoted locals as saying they heard a “huge” explosion followed by a massive fireball.

There were no reports of casualties.

Several hours later, Gasco, the company responsible for the pipeline, said the fire had been brought under control.

MENA quoted Gasco president Majdi Tewfik as saying a technical committee was tasked with evaluating the damage.

The agency also quoted a security official as saying increased security measures would be implemented in the area, as witnesses said there had been little security presence at the time of the explosion.

Israel’s National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau told army radio there would be no immediate impact on supply.

Asked if he expected a shortage that would result in electricity cuts, he said: “No. There is still a certain amount of gas in the pipeline which we can use.

“After that, the electricity board must find alternatives by using gas from Yam Tethys or by using coal or fuel oil,” he said, referring to Israel’s existing gas field, which is on the verge of being depleted.

Amos Gilad, a senior official at Israel’s defense ministry, told public radio it is “essential for the Egyptian government to follow a clear policy to ensure the provision of gas and to maintain the peace accord.”

“The situation is very delicate, the only possible policy is to rely on the Egyptians,” he added.

Jordan’s Energy Minister Khaled Tuqan confirmed Egyptian gas supplies had been halted after the attack. “Power stations are now depending on heavy fuel and diesel to generate electricity,” he said.

But he warned Jordan now has only “enough supplies of heavy fuel and diesel for two weeks.” A previous disruption in February cost the Jordan economy some $4.2 million a day, Tuqan said at the time.

Jordan imports about 240 million cubic feet (6.8 million cubic metres) of Egyptian gas a day, or 80 percent of its electricity needs.

Egypt supplies an estimated 40 percent of Israel’s gas requirements.

Earlier this month, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf called for a revision of all gas deals contracted by the ousted regime of president Hosni Mubarak, MENA reported on April 13.

The contracts are to be revisited so the gas “would be sold with deserved prices that achieve the highest returns for Egypt,” MENA said.

A sweeping probe into corruption has been launched under the ruling military council which took power when Mubarak was ousted on February 11 following anti-regime protests.

Judicial sources said Saturday that two former Egyptian oil ministers — Sameh Fahmi and Mahmud Latif — will face trial for selling natural gas to Israel at below-market prices.

Israel’s Landau dismissed allegations the Jewish state underpaid for natural gas supplies as “not at all” true.

Wednesday’s pipeline attack is the second explosion since February 5 — six days before popular uprisings forced Mubarak from power. Gas supplies to Israel and Jordan resumed on March 16.

Israel said at the time that it would step up plans for an offshore platform for importing liquefied natural gas.

Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994.

Bedouins, who complain of routine harassment and discrimination, threatened in June last year to attack the pipeline, security officials said.

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