Egypt gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan explodes
A pipeline carrying gas from Egypt to Israel and Jordan has exploded after an attack by an armed gang in the north Sinai area of Egypt.
A tower of flames shot into the air and forced the pipeline to be shut down, Egyptian security officials say.
It is the second such attack in a month on the pipeline, south of the town of el-Arish, just 30 miles (50km) from the border with Israel.
On that occasion, when gunmen planted explosives, they failed to detonate.
"An unknown armed gang attacked the gas pipeline," an unnamed security source told Reuters, adding that the flow of gas to Israel and Jordan had been hit.
Neighbouring Jordan depends on Egyptian gas to generate 80% of its electricity while Israel gets 40% of its natural gas from the country. Syria also imports gas from Egypt.
Any disruption would force Jordan to rely on more expensive diesel fuel.
The valves controlling the flow of gas from the main terminal in Port Said, on the Mediterranean coast, were shut down to dampen the flames and people living nearby were forced to leave their homes.
However, there have been no reports of casualties.'Long-term problem'
The pipeline has frequently been targeted, including an attack on 5 February during the uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak from power. On that occasion, gas exports to Israel and Jordan were stopped for a month.
Egypt's agreement to supply gas to Israel, built on the 1979 peace accord, has long been controversial. A former energy minister and other officials face trial for allegedly agreeing below market prices. Recent protests outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo called for supplies to be cut.
Last week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil el-Araby told the BBC that "gas exports are going on". Now though, it appears saboteurs have had their way.
Officials in the sparsely-populated north Sinai blame weak security for allowing another attack on the pipeline. There will be suspicion that local Bedouin tribes, who have grievances with the central government, were again involved.
Israel relies on Egypt for at least 40% of its natural gas. Yet it does have alternatives. A huge Israeli gas field known as "Tamar" was found two years ago off the north coast. When it starts production in 2013 it will meet all national gas needs.
The area is home to Bedouin tribesmen who have often complained of being neglected and oppressed by the central government. Tribesmen attempted to sabotage the pipeline in July 2010, AP reports.
The main road in the area was temporarily closed by tribesmen on Tuesday but then reopened by the army, Egypt's Mena news agency reported.
Egypt began supplying Israel with gas in 2008 under a 20-year deal.
But a former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence service, Danny Yatom, said Israel now should focus on developing 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," he told Israeli radio.
There is widespread opposition to the deal in Egypt because of Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.
There has also been a lengthy legal battle to ban supplies to Israel, amid claims that the gas was being sold at preferential rates. A ban was imposed by a court then overturned by the Supreme Court last year, though it was never enforced.