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Egypt after Mubarak

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Militants Attack Sinai Gas Pipeline Supplying Israel and Jordan

July 30th 2011

Egypt - Hijab and flag

Gunmen destroyed a natural gas facility along a pipeline leading from Egypt to Israel on July 30 in northern Sinai Peninsula. The attack occurred at Sheikh Zuayed near El-Arish, the terminal which is the main liquefying station for gas exported to Israel and Jordan from Egypt. This is the third such attack on the same pipeline this month and the fifth since the 18-day uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February. No gas has been flowing through the pipeline since the last attack on the pipeline on July 12.

The attack came a day after a huge demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square where thousands of ultraconservative Salafist Muslims and members of the Muslim Brotherhood far outnumbered other Egyptian groups. Chants calling for the imposition of Islamic law, known as Shariah, were evident as opposed to the calls for democracy heard during February’s demonstrations.

Egyptian authorities said that insurgents destroyed the gas terminal in al-Shulaq, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip. It is the last terminal before the pipeline enters the sea on its way to Israel. The attackers arrived in a truck, fired rocket-propelled grenades at the terminal and then detonated dynamite on the inside. Security at the terminal was minimal, which contained no gas, and no injuries were reported. No explosions or flame was reported.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but officials blamed a militant Bedouin group that has clashed with security forces in northern Sinai. At least four persons are now under arrest and being questioned by Egyptian security forces.

On the evening prior to the pipeline attack, six people were killed in clashes on July 29, including a military officer and police captain Youssef Mohammed al-Shafai, at El-Arish, the region's largest city. Security forces have arrested at least 15 persons. At least eight of those are Palestinians, and Egyptian police are trying to ascertain whether they entered Egypt through smuggling routes at the Rafah border crossing or through tunnels originating in the Gaza Strip. 

The gunmen, riding four-wheelers and motorcycles, peppered the police station with bullets, and security forces returned fire. Masked gunmen, firing from vehicles, sowed panic in the main square of El-Arish. The Egyptian army detained one man for questioning after having found at least two automatic weapons in the trunk of his car. Around 150 Islamists bearing black flags proclaiming "There is no God but God," tried to storm the police station. Garbed in black, the Islamists shouted demands that the Sinai should be turned into an Islamist emirate. They also destroyed a statue of former president Anwar Sadat, who was killed by Islamist militants in 1981. Onlookers claim that the attackers were not locals. The violence came hours after the massive demonstration dominated by Islamists demanding the implementation of Shariah law. 

Egypt has been trying to renegotiate gas prices with Israel and Jordan after dictator Mubarak’s downfall. Charges of corruption were circulating that Egypt had been selling gas to Israel at below market prices, among other things. Israel insists it pays market rates. Six former Egyptian officials, including former petroleum minister Sameh Fahmi, were charged earlier this year with harming the public interest and corruption related to the deal.

Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent Martin Barillas also edits Speroforum.com.


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