June 28, 2010
Egyptian police beefed up security around a Sinai peninsula pipeline that supplies Israel with natural gas after a group of wanted Bedouin threatened to sabotage it, security officials said on Monday.
The Bedouin group, which consists of at least a dozen armed fugitives, has clashed with police since its leader Salim Lafi escaped from a prison truck in an ambush that killed a policeman in February.
Security officials said police had received warnings the group threatened to attack the pipeline, which since 2008 has supplied Israel with 1.7 billion cubic metres (60 billion cubic feet) of gas a year despite angry opposition to the supply deal within Egypt.
An Israeli infrastructure ministry spokeswoman said Egypt provides about a third of Israel's natural gas.
Police relations with Sinai Bedouin are usually tense, with Bedouin complaining of routine harassment and discrimination.
Security officials said police were also increasing their presence around El-Arish airport and the Al-Ouja crossing with Israel.
A Bedouin activist in central Sinai, where Lafi is believed to be hiding, said police were exploiting the threat to crack down on the Bedouin.
"There were threats about the pipeline. But the Bedouin have not reached this point of escalation," said Mussa el-Daleh.
"We are Bedouin. The police don't distinguish between outlaws and others," he said, adding that the threats were in response to a security crackdown after Lafi's escape.
Lafi was jailed after Bedouin tribesman briefly held dozens of policemen in response to the killing of three Bedouin in a protest in November 2008.
Police have denied allegations that they arrested Lafi's relatives to pressure him to surrender.
Rights groups have criticised Egypt's policies towards the Bedouin, who were subjected to harsh police treatment after a series of bombings in Sinai resorts between 2004 and 2006, which killed dozens of Egyptians and foreign tourists.
Source: AFP Global Edition