World

Egyptian gas pipeline to Israel hit by 6th attack

Gunmen have attacked Egypt's main natural gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan for the sixth time since the uprising that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak in February, security officials say.

Militants attack gas pipeline in Sinai Peninsula

Bedouins watch fire from a previous attack on a terminal of the Egyptian natural gas pipeline in July. Gunmen have attacked the pipeline, which supplies Israel and Jordan, for the sixth time since February. (Associated Press)

Gunmen have attacked Egypt's main natural gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan for the sixth time since the uprising that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak in February, security officials say.

The gunmen drove up to the pumping station in two pickup trucks before dawn Tuesday. Witnesses said they saw three men shooting at the station, causing a major explosion that sent flames shooting some 15 metres into the air.

Some homes caught on fire following the explosion, and one guard was injured and two people suffered burns.

The pipeline terminal is in the city of El-Arish in the northern part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, about 50 kilometres west of the Israeli border

Three lines branch out from the pumping station — one to Israel, a second to Jordan, and a third to Egypt's domestic market.

The Egyptian and Jordanian lines were shut down following Tuesday's attack. The Israeli pipeline has not been functioning since one of the previous attacks in July forced it to shut down.

The peninsula borders both Israel and the Gaza Strip, controlled by Islamic militant group Hamas, and has been the scene of clashes between residents and security forces. It is also home to Bedouin tribesmen, who have been blamed for attacking the pipeline in the past.

"The sons of Sinai are not responsible for anything [that] happens on Sinai land and will not take part in the protection measures unless the government releases thousands of our people," said Salem Uneizan, spokesman for the Coalition of Free Sinai Sons, in reference to thousands of Bedouin youth in prisons.

Security vacuum left by Mubarak's ouster

Security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, said an initial investigation indicated the gunmen planted explosives at the station. One of the officials blamed the attack on "extremist militants inspired by al-Qaeda," saying they have carried out past strikes on the pipeline.

Al-Qaeda-inspired militants have been increasingly active in Sinai since Mubarak's ouster in February, taking advantage of the security vacuum caused by the abrupt withdrawal of police forces.

Those responsible for the attack may also be opposed to Egypt selling gas to Israel. Mubarak has been criticized for signing deals during his rule that set gas prices far too low.

Anti-Israeli sentiment may have also been stoked by the deaths of Egyptian security forces killed last month during a shootout between Israeli soldiers and suspected Palestinian militants.

With files from The Associated Press