Massive pipeline blast raises heat over Egypt crisis
A gas pipeline between Egypt and Israel was attacked today as tensions in the region continued.
The attack led to a massive explosion at a gas compressor station and triggered a huge fire along the pipeline in Egypt's northern Sinai Peninsula.
State TV said the explosion was the result of an attack, but provided no further details. The blast went off at a gas compressor station near the Sinai town of el-Arish, several hundred yards away from the local airport, witnesses said.
From the compressor station, gas pipelines run to Jordan and Israel. The gas pipeline has come under attack in the past.
Bedouin tribesmen of the Sinai Peninsula attempted to blow it up last July as tensions intensified between them and the Egyptian government, which they accuse of discrimination and of ignoring their plight.
Neighbouring Israel relies on the gas pipeline to meet its energy needs and spends billions to bring natural gas from Egypt.
Meanwhile, a new rally by nearly 100,000 protesters in Cairo and behind-the-scenes diplomacy from the Obama administration piled more pressure on President Hosni Mubarak to make a swift exit and allow a temporary government to embark on an immediate path toward democracy.
Two days of wild clashes between protesters and regime supporters that killed 11 people this week seemed to have pushed the US to the conclusion that an Egypt with Mr Mubarak at the helm is potentially more unstable than one without him.
For the first time in the 11-day wave of protests, varying scenarios were being put forward by two opposing camps in Egypt and by the US on how to usher the country into a post-Mubarak era after nearly 30 years of his authoritarian rule.
Mr Obama said that discussions have begun in Egypt on a turnover of the government and he called for "a transition period that begins now".
"We want to see this moment of turmoil turned into a moment of opportunity," Mr Obama said in Washington.
He did not explicitly call for Mr Mubarak to step down immediately, but US officials said the administration has made a judgment that Mr Mubarak has to go soon if the crisis is to end peacefully.
Under one US proposal, the 82-year-old Mubarak would step down and hand power to a military-backed temporary government headed by his newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks.
The government would prepare for free and fair elections later this year.
Mr Mubarak has staunchly refused to step down until elections in September, and his prime minister said yesterday that stance is "unlikely" to change.
The protesters have vowed to continue their rallies until Mr Mubarak goes, and they seemed flush with a sense of victory and recharged determination after repelling pro-regime rioters who attacked Tahrir Square on Wednesday, sparking 48 hours of pitched battles.
Yesterday, nearly 100,000 people packed the downtown plaza in a protest dubbed the "Friday of departure" in hopes it would be the day that Mr Mubarak stepped down.