Egypt pipe blast 'due to gas leak'

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Flames are seen after an explosion at a gas terminal in Egypt's northern Sinai Peninsula (AP)

An explosion has rocked a gas terminal in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula, setting off a massive fire that was contained by shutting off the flow of gas to neighbouring Jordan and Egypt, officials and witnesses said.

An Egyptian gas company official said the fire was caused by a gas leak. Earlier, a regional official said he suspected sabotage.

The blast and fire at the gas terminal in the Sinai town of El-Arish did not cause casualties. The explosion sent a pillar of flames leaping into the sky, but was a safe distance from the nearest homes, said regional governor Abdel Wahab Mabrouk.

The blast came as a popular uprising engulfed Egypt, where anti-government protesters have been demanding the ouster of long-time President Hosni Mubarak for the past two weeks.

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

The terminal is part of a pipeline system that transports gas from Egypt’s Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea to Israel, Syria and Jordan.

The head of the Egypt’s natural gas company, Magdy Toufik, said in a statement that the fire broke out in the terminal “as a result of a small amount of gas leaking.”

Mr Mabrouk told Egyptian media he suspected sabotage, but did not explain further. Mr Mabrouk said the fire was brought under control after valves controlling the flow of gas were closed.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that it’s not clear whether damage was caused to the pipeline leading to Israel. “But as a security precaution, Israel temporarily stopped, by its own initiative, the transfer of gas as procedure dictates,” the statement said.

The blast also halted the gas supply to Jordan, which depends on Egyptian gas to generate 80% of its electricity.

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