Saboteurs attack Egypt gas pipeline to Israel

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Cairo, Feb 5 (AFP) Unknown saboteurs attacked anEgyptian pipeline supplying gas to Israel near the Gaza Striptoday, an official told AFP, amid raging protests against theregime of President Hosni Mubarak.

The official initially said the terminal had also beenattacked.

The attackers used explosives against the pipeline inthe town of Lihfen in the Sheikh Zuwayed area of the Sinaipeninsula near the Gaza Strip, the official said.

The army has taken precautionary measures to stop thefire from spreading, the official added.

Rescue services were putting out the fire, localofficial Gaber al-Araby told Egyptian television.

"We still don''t have details of how it happened," headded.

Israeli public radio quoted an Egyptian official assaying the attack was carried out at dawn, using a smallamount of explosives which caused only minor damage.

The fire lasted three hours and was under control,while gas supplies to Israel and Jordan were cut, the officialsaid.

It was not immediately clear if the attack was linkedto deadly protests against President Hosni Mubarak, now intheir 12th day.

An armed Bedouin group in June threatened to attackthe pipeline, security officials said, leading Egyptianauthorities to beef up security around the pipeline andterminal.

Police relations with the region''s former nomads areoften tense, with the Bedouin complaining of routineharassment and discrimination.

Activists accuse the police of exploiting concernsabout the pipeline to crack down on the community.

Human rights groups have criticised Egyptian policytowards the Bedouin, who were subjected to harsh policetreatment after a series of bombings in Sinai resorts between2004 and 2006, which killed dozens of Egyptians and foreigntourists.

Egypt supplies about 40 per cent of Israel''s naturalgas, and in December, four Israeli firms signed 20-yearcontracts worth up to USD 10 billion (7.4 billion euros) toimport Egyptian gas.

The attack came after Israel expressed concern thatits natural gas supplies from Egypt could be threatened by theuprising against the government.

"We again realise that the Middle East is not a stableregion. We must act to ensure our energy security withoutrelying on others," a spokesman for National InfrastructureMinister Uzi Landau said on Tuesday.

Israel is concerned that a new regime in Cairo mightnot respect the peace treaty the two governments signed threedecades ago -- and with it, the crucial energy supplies. (AFP)

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