AMMAN (Reuters) – Egypt signed a deal with three Arab countries to extend the second phase of a $1 billion Middle East natural gas pipeline project to start from Egypt to northern Jordan by mid-2006, officials said yesterday. They said an accord late on Sunday between pact signatories Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon gave the go-ahead to the second phase of the ambitious natural gas pipeline stretching from Egypt to Turkey with a feed eventually to Greece and the rest of Europe. The first phase of the network, a $230 million pipeline from Arish in Sinai to Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba, was completed in July of last year. Jordan is now importing 1.1 billion cubic meters per year of Egyptian gas from the pipeline that has a capacity to transport around 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year. Amman chose an Egyptian-Jordanian consortium in the bidding race to construct the first phase under attractive build-operate-transfer (BOT) terms. The Fajr Jordanian-Egyptian Company for Natural Gas Transmission and Supply will construct the 393km (244-mile) pipeline stretch from the Aqaba coast to the northern Rihab power plant in northern Jordan close to the Syrian border. The cost is estimated at $270 million and work will begin next month with the timetable for commercial operation in the second half of 2006, Jordanian energy officials said. The third phase to extend the line to Syria and Lebanon could be by 2006, energy officials said. Energy ministers from Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon also approved steps to set up a joint company to manage and construct the stretch of the gas pipeline from the Jordanian-Syrian border to Turkey and Cyprus.