CARIO: Unknown saboteurs blew up a pipeline that delivers gas to Israel and Jordan on Monday, just hours before the first round of parliament elections opened up in Egypt. It is the latest of a series of attacks on the export route; already the 9th this year and the 8th since former president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.
Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported two detonations, some 30km west of El-Arish, a town in the northern Sinai, close to the Israeli border. The explosions were started from distance, as witnesses said they saw masked men driving away from the area just minutes before the blasts. Flames skyrocketed and could be seen from miles away. No casualties were reported.
The pipelines carry cheap gas to Israel and Jordan. The 20-year gas deal struck with Israel in 2005 under Mubarak’s reign entails very favorable conditions for Israel. It is highly contested among Egyptians who see the deal as a selling-off of its natural resources, besides the objection of exporting to Israel as a matter of principle.
On the other hand, Israel is highly dependent on the gas imports from Egypt, which accounts for 43 percent of its gas supplies.
Under popular pressure to toughen its stance towards Israel, the interim government has sought to renegotiate the terms of the gas deal with Israel, but so far with no success. However, they were able to double the price of gas exported to Jordan last month.
The Sinai has suffered time and again from a fragile security situation, which was aggravated after the police thinned out in the wake of the February revolution. The Sinai is claimed by Israel to serve as a rear base for militant attacks against its territory. It is also reported to be an important smuggling route to the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. The geostrategic importance of the area adds to sensitive issue of marginality of the Beduin community. It complains that the authorities have neglected the Sinai for decades.
Egyptian authorities have taken steps to improve the security situation, carrying out security sweeps against Islamist groups they claim to be responsible for recent attacks on pipelines.
Egyptian armed forces reportedly captured a four Islamist militants involved in the preparation of a pipeline attack.
On 21 November, two police officers were shot in el-Arish while attempting to capture the leader of an al-Qaida inspired militant group.
As for the latest attacks on the gas pipeline, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far.