AMMAN (JT) – Unidentified gunmen on Saturday attacked a terminal on the gas pipeline to Jordan and Israel for the fifth time since February, a security official said, quoted by Agence France-Presse.

Gunmen on motorbikes and cars lobbed grenades and tried to storm the terminal at Al Shulaq in north Sinai but were confronted by armed forces, leading to clashes.

Witnesses said the gunmen managed to flee.

“Unidentified gunmen attacked the natural gas terminal on the pipeline to Israel. There was no gas in the pipeline since it was blown up on July 11,” the security official said, according to AFP.

It was the fifth attack on the gas pipeline since February, a time of political upheaval when an uprising toppled president Hosni Mubarak and saw power handed over to a military council.

An explosion near Al Arish in the Sinai Peninsula damaged the pipeline earlier this month cutting supplies to the Kingdom and causing “extensive damage”, according to Egyptian energy officials.

Previous attacks in February and April resulted in two separate six-week disruptions forcing the Kingdom’s power plants to use their heavy fuel oil reserves at a cost of some $3 million per day.

According to the Ministry of Finance, the continuous disruptions in natural gas supplies cost the Kingdom JD637 million in the first half of the year.

Egyptian gas supplies have yet to return to pre-attack levels and prior to the fourth attack on the pipeline dropped to 60 million cubic feet – well below the 240 million cubic feet stipulated in a 12-year agreement between the two sides.

But Amman and Cairo have yet to close in on an amended natural gas deal, according to energy officials.

The unreliability of Egyptian gas has forced Jordanian authorities to look for alternative energy sources including liquefied gas and increased heavy oil imports from Iraq.

Plans are in place to construct an offshore terminal for liquefied gas in the Port of Aqaba by 2013.

The Kingdom, which currently buys 97 per cent of its energy needs, used to import about 240 million cubic feet of Egyptian gas a day, or 80 per cent of its electricity requirements.

Cairo has come under increasing popular pressure since the January 25 uprising to end gas exports to Jordan and Israel and prioritise the resource for domestic use.

The latest attack came a day after clashes in the nearby city of Al Arish that left five people dead, according to AFP.

Armed forces arrested 12 men, including three Palestinians, suspected of involvement in an attack on an Al Arish police station, said north Sinai security chief Saleh Masri.

Three civilians, an army officer and a police officer were killed in the clashes, and 19 people wounded.

Earlier on Friday, around 150 men in trucks and on motorbikes rampaged through Al Arish, firing assault rifles in the air, driving terrified residents into their homes.

They rode through the deserted streets of the city waving black flags which read “There is no God but Allah”, before attempting to storm the police station.

Earlier, the masked men used a bulldozer to damage a statue of the late president Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated by Islamist militants in 1981.

The violence came after a peaceful demonstration at noon in one of the city’s squares, part of countrywide protests on Friday by Islamists who want any future constitution to assert that Egypt is a Muslim state, AFP reported.