An Egyptian gas pipeline in the Sinai peninsula was attacked Saturday, cutting off supplies to Jordan and Israel.
The pipeline was attacked by “subversive elements,” Egyptian state TV reported. There were no further details on those responsible, but the attack was the latest sign of deteriorating security in the key buffer between the Egyptian mainland and Israel.
Conditions on the Sinai have been unsettled by the power vacuum created by nearly two weeks of massive demonstrations against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak.
In a sign of the rising tensions, Bedouin in the northern Sinai on Friday used rocket-propelled grenades to attack the headquarters of Egypt’s state security in El Arish, a town close to Egypt’s border crossing into Gaza, according to witnesses. The pipeline attack occurred in the same general area.
Earlier in the week, Mohammed Abu Ras, the leader of a Bedouin tribe who enjoyed friendly relations with the Egyptian forces, was gunned down outside a meeting between tribal leaders and Egyptian army generals, in a vendetta killing that fed fears of rising conflict.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week agreed to let Egypt deploy 800 additional troops to the Sinai to replace the police and stabilize the area, though the two countries’ peace accords stipulate the peninsula should be demilitarized.
Egypt supplies almost all of Jordan’s gas needs, amounting to some 240 million cubic feet a day used to fuel power plants as well as for heating and cooking. Egypt is also a major supplier of gas to Israel.
State TV showed a jet of flame rising out of the desert. It appeared the attack affected the Jordan-Syria branch of the pipeline.
The East Mediteranean Gas Co., which buys gas from Egypt and supplies Israel, told customers supplies would be cut temporarily. A spokesman for the Israeli partner in the company said Egypt Gas shut off supply to the entire region to put out a fire and fix the damage to a measuring station on the gas pipeline to Jordan and Syria.
``It’s a safety precaution,’’ said Merhav spokesman Zeev Feiner. ``Once something happens, you shut down the system.’’
A Jordanian official confirmed supplies to Jordan have been cut. “The explosion that took place today on the gas pipeline has led to suspending gas supplies to Jordan,” said Ghaleb al-Maabrah head of the Jordanian National Electricity Co. .
The shutdown of gas to Jordan is expected to continue for at least a week while the pipeline is repaired, he said, according to the official Petra news agency.
In the absence of Egyptian gas, Jordan will have to fuel its power stations with expensive diesel fuel, of which the kingdom has a three week stockpile, he said. Switching fuels will cost the kingdom some 3 million Jordanian dinars a day ($4.2 million), he said.
The kingdom imports some 95% of its energy needs at a cost of around 19% of its gross domestic product.
Egypt’s petroleum minister confirmed to state TV that gas supplies to a number of countries have been affected.
Sinai Bedouins are widely suspected of having bombed the Jordan-Syria branch in June. That attack followed a series of violent confrontations with police.
One person close to the Sinai Bedouin said Saturday he doubted they were involved in the current attack.
Hassan Hafidh and Matt Bradley contributed to this story.