By Orhan Coskun
ANKARA (Reuters) - Unidentified saboteurs have blown up a pipeline in eastern Turkey carrying Iranian natural gas, halting the flow of gas and wounding 28 soldiers in a passing military vehicle, Turkish officials said on Friday.
The overnight attack, less than a week after gas flow was restarted following a previous attack, prompted Russia's top natural gas producer Gazprom to increase its gas supplies to Turkey to offset the shortfall.
The blast occurred in the area of Eleskirt, a town in Agri province. It was not clear when gas flow through the pipeline would resume.
"Sabotage carried out late last night on the pipeline caused damage and triggered a fire. Twenty-eight soldiers on duty in the area were wounded," an official from the Agri governor's office told Reuters.
The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militant group has claimed responsibility for repeated attacks on pipelines in Turkey in its 28-year-old armed campaign for Kurdish self-governance, which has intensified over the last few months.
The soldiers were being treated in various local hospitals for minor injuries, burns and smoke inhalation, the official said, adding that the fire had been extinguished.
"Damage assessment will be conducted on the pipeline. After the extent of the damage is determined, we'll be able to say when the flow will resume," an energy official said.
Gas flow from Iran was halted on October 8 after an explosion in eastern Turkey, and resumed a week later.
Flows have also been halted several times on the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline carrying crude oil to Turkey from Iraq in recent months due to suspected sabotage by the PKK, designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
After the latest blast, Gazprom's exporting arm, Gazprom Export, said the Turkish company Botas had requested an increase in the gas supply via the underwater Blue Stream pipeline to 48 million cubic metres a day.
"Gazprom Export approved the request," it said in an e-mailed statement.
Turkey is Gazprom's second-largest natural gas consumer after Germany.
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Writing by Seda Sezer and Daren Butler; Editing by Kevin Liffey)