An Egyptian pipeline delivering gas to Israel and Jordan was hit by two explosions Thursday, Egypt’s security services and state media said, the seventh time it has been attacked by militants this year.
A first blast occurred around 1:00 am (2300 GMT Wednesday) 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of the town of Al-Arish in the north of the Sinai peninsula, a security source said.
A second unexplained explosion took place near a pumping station in the same sector, the official news agency MENA said, adding that the army was deploying in the region.
The pipeline, which carries gas through the Sinai and on to Jordan and Israel, had already been attacked six times since former president Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February.
Witnesses said they had seen armed men at the scene of the first blast, the security source said. He did not know if there had been any victims.
MENA, also quoting witnesses, said a blaze could be seen after the explosion. Witnesses said two cars crowded with armed men were seen heading to the pipeline before the explosion, the news agency reported.
Previous attacks have disrupted gas deliveries to both destination countries several times, but it was not immediately clear what impact the latest incidents would have.
Israel said in late October that gas imports from Egypt had resumed after a cut of several months because of the attacks. The pipeline also feeds an industrial area in mid-Sinai, MENA reported.
The most recent attack was on September 27, when one person was injured.
Army experts have also located and defused a number of other devices targeting the pipeline.
Egyptian authorities have on several occasions announced measures to step up protection of the pipeline and try to arrest those behind the attacks.
Israel generates 40 percent of its electricity using natural gas, and Egypt provides 43 percent of its supplies of the material.
The deliveries to Israel, agreed under Mubarak who was overthrown on February 11, have come under heavy criticism in Egypt. Mubarak’s government was accused of selling the gas at a low price.
Mubarak and a business associate face corruption charges for the deal to sell the gas. The oil ministry has said it would revise the contract with Israel to substantially raise the price.
Egyptian gas also covers 80 percent of Jordan’s electricity production demand — 6.8 million cubic metres a day.
Egypt’s Sinai region is particularly security sensitive due to tensions with the Bedouin community living there. Many goods are smuggled to the Palestinian enclave of Gaza through Sinai, which the Israelis also charge is a rear base for militant attacks against its territory.
The military and police launched a sweeping operation in the peninsula in October to uproot Islamist militants believed to be behind the attacks on the pipeline and a police station in El-Arish.