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Israel relieved as Egypt resumes limited gas supply

JERUSALEM, Mar 16 – Shipments of Egyptian gas to Israel, which were cut off after a February 5 attack on a Sinai pipeline, were resumed on Wednesday, officials said, in a move welcomed by the Jewish state.

Ampal-American Israel Corporation, which holds 12.5 percent of the East Mediterranean Gas Company (EMG) that owns the pipeline, said the initial supply would be less than normal but would be ramped up "on a daily basis" to reach the full supply.

The company said in a statement that it had been advised "that commercial gas supply to EMG and subsequently to EMG\’s Israeli customers, has resumed last night (March 15).

"EMG has further advised that … the initial quantities of gas supplied to EMG are less than the contractual quantities and will ramp up on a daily basis to reach full contractual quantities," it said.

According to a source close to familiar with the contract, the flow should be brought up to full supply "within four or five days."

"The delay is for technical reasons because it would be dangerous to suddenly revert to the full amount without verifying that the pipeline is working normally," he told AFP.

Israeli officials expressed relief over the development, describing the resumption of the gas flow as an important aspect of the political relationship with Egypt\’s new rulers.

"We welcome the resumption of the gas supply because this is an important element in the peaceful relations between the two countries," Amos Gilad, a senior official in the defence ministry, told army radio.

The Sinai pipeline attack occurred as Egypt was struggling with an unprecedented wave of anti-government protests, which last month brought down the 30-year regime of president Hosni Mubarak.

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The fall of Mubarak, a long-time ally of the Jewish state, has sparked concern in Israel that the new Cairo regime take a harder line against its northern neighbour.

Although the pipeline was not badly damaged in the February attack, the resumption of gas supply to Israel has been repeatedly held up, prompting widespread speculation that the new Egyptian authorities were delaying the move for political rather than technical reasons.

Gas imports to Israel were halted as a precaution on February 5 following the attack, which was carried out by unknown elements, and targeted the section of pipeline supplying Jordan.

The flow to Israel had been due to resume in mid-February but was delayed over a hold-up in repair work on a GASCO pipeline. Ampal-American Israel Corporation had on Monday announced yet another delay, attributing it to "a leak."

Egypt supplies about 40 percent of Israel\’s natural gas which is used to produce electricity. Since the attack, Israel has permitted power stations to use fuel oil in order to avoid blackouts and a drop in the production of electricity.

The already-controversial supply of gas to Israel ran into further controversy earlier this month after a Kuwaiti newspaper reported that Mubarak\’s two sons had received a hefty commission from Israel over the deal.

In December, four Israeli firms had signed 20-year contracts worth up to $10 billion (7.4 billion euros) to import Egyptian gas.

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