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Gas exports cut after blast rocks Egypt terminal

Image: Flames rise over the al-Sabil natural gas terminal after an explosion near the town of El-Arish, Egypt,.
Flames rise over the al-Sabil natural gas terminal after an explosion near the town of El-Arish, Egypt, near the border with Israel Wednesday.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An explosion rocked a natural gas terminal near Egypt's border with Israel early on Wednesday, sending flames shooting into the air and forcing the shutdown of the country's export pipeline, said security officials.

It was the second incident in the past month on the al-Sabil terminal near the town of El-Arish just 30 miles from the border with Israel. On March 27, gunmen planted explosives at the terminal, which failed to detonate.

Following Wednesday's blast, valves controlling the flow of gas from the main terminal in Port Said on the Mediterranean coast were shut down to stifle the flames, cutting gas exports to Israel, Jordan and Syria. The fire continued to rage well past dawn.

Maya Etzioni, a spokeswoman for Israel's Infrastructure Ministry, confirmed that the gas supply was cut off early Wednesday.

Egyptian officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, did not say if explosion was due to sabotage or an accident.

Bedouin tribesmen in the area have attacked the pipeline in the past, including on Feb. 5, when a different section was blown up, stopping exports to Israel and Jordan for a month.

They also attempted to sabotage the pipeline in July 2010.

Bedouins' complaints
Security forces often clash with the Bedouin in the Sinai Peninsula, who complain of being neglected and oppressed by the central government.

Tribesmen attempt to draw attention to their grievances by blocking roads, burning tires, or attacking infrastructure.

On Tuesday, the state news agency reported that the main highway in the area was temporarily closed by protesting families of detainees before the army reopened it.

Following attacks by militants on resorts in the southern Sinai between 2004 and 2006, thousands of Bedouin were detained, increasing local resentment of the central government.

Egypt exports gas to Israel, Jordan and Syria, though lately the deals have come under attack because of the low price at which the gas is sold and on April 13, the prime minister ordered a review of the pricing deals.

Danny Yatom, a former head of the Mossad intelligence service, said Israel could no longer depend on a stable supply of gas from Egypt and needed to speed up the development of its own offshore gas reserves.

"We need to understand that this is a problem we're going to live with for a very long time, and we need to start preparing an alternative now," Yatom told Army Radio.

Jordan depends on Egyptian gas to generate 80 percent of its electricity.

The halt to the flow would force the country to rely on more expensive diesel fuel to keep the country's power plants running.

Egypt has potential natural gas reserves of 62 trillion cubic feet, the 18th largest in the world.