The head of Egypt’s natural gas company says a fire at a terminal supplying Israel in the northern Sinai Peninsula was caused by a leak – not terrorist activity.
The fire, preceded by an explosion, did not cause casualties, however the flow of gas to both Israel and Jordan had to be shut off to contain the blaze.
Earlier, the regional governor in the Sinai, Abdel Wahab Mabrouk, had blamed the incident on “sabotage”.
The head of the Egyptian company for natural gas, Magdy Toufik, countered that earlier claim and said in a statement that the fire broke out as a result of a “small amount of gas leaking”.
Egyptian state TV had also blamed “terrorists” for the explosion, which saw flames towering into the sky near the Gaza Strip.
The blast came as a two-week-old popular uprising has engulfed Cairo and Alexandria.
Last week, Egypt reinforced the Sinai peninsular with two battalions of troops to protect tourists at Red Sea resorts and to support police who continue to help Israel maintain the long standing siege on Gaza, home to a million Palestinians.
Israel has a 15-year contract to import gas from Egypt, worth billions, but the deal signed in 2008 has been unpopular with many Egyptians.
The Sinai Peninsula, home to Bedouins, has also been the scene of clashes between residents and security forces because tribesmen complain that they are missing out on development opportunities.
The leak and explosion occurred early Saturday at a gas terminal in the northern Sinai town of el-Arish, several hundred yards away from the local airport.
Mr 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 pipeline was carrying gas to Jordan but Israel temporarily shut down its service, officials said, as “a precaution”.
Jordan said gas supplies from Egypt were expected to remain halted for a week until the pipeline was repaired.
A Jordanian energy source said the kingdom had switched power generating stations to burning fuel oil and diesel as a precaution, after the cutoff of the Egyptian supply.
The blaze shooting vertically in the air was visible from rooftops of homes next to the Gaza-Egypt border, about 44 miles away.
The pipelines transport gas from Egypt’s Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea to Israel and Jordan and supplies about 25% of the gas used to generate Israel’s electrical power.
The explosion comes as Israelis watch events anxiously in Cairo where a change of regime, many believe, could undermine Israel’s 30-year peace treaty with the Jewish state’s neighbour.
Al-Jazeera quoted sources at the Egyptian energy ministry as saying that gas import to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel would stop for 2 weeks following the blast at the gas pipeline. Lebanon has been receiving the gas supplies via Syria. Sky
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