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Blasts hit a natural gas pipeline in Iran that an official says was an act of sabotage

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Explosions struck a natural gas pipeline in Iran early Wednesday, with an official blaming the blasts on a “sabotage and terrorist action” in the country as tensions remain high in the Middle East amid Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Details were scarce, though the blasts hit a natural gas pipeline running from Iran’s western Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province up north to cities on the Caspian Sea. The roughly 1,270-kilometer (790-mile) pipeline begins in Asaluyeh, a hub for Iran’s offshore South Pars gas field.

Saeed Aghli, the manager of Iran’s gas network control center, told Iranian state television that a “sabotage and terrorist” action caused explosions along several areas of the line.

There are no known insurgent groups operating in that province, home to the Bakhtiari, a branch of Iran’s Lur ethnic group. Aghli did not name any suspects in the blasts.

In the past, Arab separatists in southwestern Iran have claimed attacks against oil pipelines. However, attacks against such infrastructure are rare elsewhere.

Iran has faced low-level separatist unrest from Kurds in its northwest, the Baluch in its east and Arabs in its southwest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

However, tensions have risen in recent years as Iran faces an economy hobbled by international sanctions over its nuclear program. The country has faced years of mass demonstrations, most recently in 2022 over the death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest allegedly over how she wore her mandatory headscarf.

Meanwhile, Israel has carried out attacks in Iran, but have predominantly targeted its nuclear program. On Tuesday, the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog warned that Iran is “not entirely transparent” regarding its atomic program, particularly after an official who once led Tehran’s program announced the Islamic Republic has all the pieces for a weapon “in our hands.”

Tensions over Iran’s nuclear program comes as militias it arms in the region — Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels — have launched attacks targeting Israel during the war in Gaza. The Houthis continue to attack commercial shipping in the region, sparking repeated airstrikes from the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

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Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

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