Blast At Gas Pipeline In Egypt's Sinai Peninsula

An explosion went off at a gas terminal in Egypt's northern Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, setting off a massive fire along a gas pipeline that could be seen dozens of miles away, officials and witnesses said.

No injuries were immediately reported.

The governor of the region, Abdel Wahab Mabrouk, said he suspected "sabotage," but provided no details.

The blast came as a two-week-old popular uprising has engulfed Egypt, where anti-government protesters are demanding the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

The Sinai Peninsula, home to Bedouin tribesmen, has been the scene of clashes between residents and security forces. It borders both Israel and the militant Palestinian Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The explosion went off early Saturday at a gas terminal in the northern Sinai town of el-Arish, several hundred yards (meters) away from the local airport.

Mabrouk told Egypt's Nile News TV that the fire was brought under control by mid-morning, after valves allowing the flow of gas from the terminal into pipelines were shut off.

The blaze was visible from rooftops of homes next to the Gaza-Egypt border, about 44 miles (70 kilometers) away. Flames leaped into the air, but there was no smoke, and the fire died down by around 10 a.m., Gaza residents said.

The pipelines transport gas from Egypt's Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea to Israel and Jordan.

The gas pipelines have come under attack in the past.

Bedouin tribesmen attempted to blow up the pipeline last July as tensions intensified between them and the Egyptian government, which they accuse of discrimination and of ignoring their plight.

Israel relies on the gas pipeline to meet its energy needs and spends billions to bring natural gas from Egypt.

Israeli officials said it was not clear whether the explosion affected the pipeline leading to Israel.

"At this stage, the gas supply to Israel was stopped according to procedure in emergency scenarios," said Chen Ben Lulu, spokesman of Israel's Infrastructure Ministry. "We are not sure what caused the explosion."

Egypt has potential natural gas reserves of 62 trillion cubic feet (1.7 trillion cubic meters), the 18th largest in the world.

Egypt began providing Israel with natural gas in February 2008 under a deal by which it will sell Israel 60 billion cubic feet (1.7 billion cubic meters) a year for a period of 15 years. The deal raised controversy at home, with some in the Egyptian opposition saying the gas was being sold at below-market rates.

This program aired on February 5, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


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