Saboteurs blew up Egypt's gas pipeline to Jordan and Israel on Monday, witnesses and security sources said, a few hours before the country holds its first free election since President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February.
The explosion struck the pipeline west of al-Arish in Sinai, witnesses said. There was a second consecutive blast, about 100 metres away, sources said.
State news agency MENA said the explosion was in al-Sabeel area. Security forces and fire trucks raced to the scene.
Security sources said the explosions were detonated from a distance and that tracks from two vehicles were found in the area. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The pipeline, which supplies gas to Jordan and Israel, was last attacked on November 25. It is the eighth such attack since Mubarak stepped down on February 11. It is the ninth this year, with the first attack a few days before Mubarak was toppled.
Egypt's 20-year gas deal with Israel, signed in the Mubarak era, is unpopular with the Egyptian public, with critics arguing that the Jewish state does not pay enough for the gas.
An executive of the East Mediterranean Gas Co (EMG), which exports Egyptian gas to Israel, said in July that international shareholders in the firm were pursuing legal claims against Egypt for $8 billion (5 billion pounds) in damages from contract violations in gas supplies, following disruptions caused by pipeline attacks.
Egypt doubled the price of gas exported to Jordan last month. Petroleum Minister Abdullah Ghorab said the new price was just above $5 per million BTU, up from $2.15 to $2.30.
The government said this month it would tighten security measures along the pipeline by installing alarm devices and recruiting security patrols from Bedouin tribesmen.
(Reporting by Yusri Mohamed, Dina Zayed and Ahmed El-Sheemy; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)