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Mixed Reports On Cause Of Blast At Egyptian Gas Terminal


An image grab taken from Egyptian state television shows what the channel said is a flame rising from the site of an attack on a gas pipeline. (AFP Photo/Al-Masriya TV)
An explosion has rocked a gas terminal in Egypt's northern Sinai Peninsula, forcing operators to shut off the flow of gas to neighboring Jordan and Egypt.

There are conflicting reports of what caused the blast.

Regional governor Abdel Wahab Mabrouk told Egyptian media he suspected "sabotage" but did not explain further.

The head of Egypt's natural gas company says the fire was caused by a gas leak.

The blast comes as a popular uprising engulfs Egypt, where antigovernment protesters are demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Sources in the Israeli consortium that oversees gas imports by Israel say the blast was "nowhere near" the main pipeline that runs into Israel. Instead, they say, it hit a pipeline that runs into western Jordan and then back into eastern Israel.

Egyptian authorities say the explosion affected the main gas pumping station that moves supplies from al-Arish city, about 345 kilometers northeast of Cairo, to Jordan. They say those gas supplies were stopped as a precaution as firefighters battled towering flames that could be seen in Gaza from as far as 70 kilometers away.

The incident has raised concerns within Israel about its long-term relationship with Egypt -- its biggest trading partner in the Middle East -- and the ramifications that regime change in Egypt could have on regional security.

Mubarak met today with ministers responsible for the main economic portfolios in his new government -- including the prime minister, the finance minister, the oil minister and the trade and industry minister. The central bank governor also attended.

The SITE intelligence group, which monitors Al-Qaeda and other Islamist websites, said some groups had been urging Islamic militants to attack the pipeline to Israel while the security situation in Egypt is in flux.

Egypt is a modest gas exporter, using pipelines to export gas to Israel and also to Jordan and other regional states.

compiled from agency reports