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Egypt and Saudi Arabia to build Red Sea link bridge

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announces bridge to be named after Saudi Arabia's King Salman
The Egyptian side of the bridge will be in its South Sinai province (AFP)

A bridge is to be built linking Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it was announced on Friday, years after the project was first proposed.

The bridge will link Egypt and Saudi Arabia via the Red Sea and will be named after the Gulf kingdom's King Salman.

Speaking following talks with King Salman on Friday, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told a joint news conference in Cairo that he hoped the road bridge would improve trade between the two countries.

Egyptian officials first raised the prospect of linking the two countries via a Red Sea bridge in June 2013, shortly after President Sisi took power.

However, the Saudi transport minister at the time poured cold water on the idea, saying there was "no possibility" of realising the project due to environmental issues.

Saudi Arabia's Bin Laden Group, one of the country's leading construction companies, had said it was willing to fund the $3bn project.

In 2006 the US company Bechtel, which is currently engaged in the Egyptian oil and gas sector, conducted a feasibility study into the possibility of establishing a road bridge connecting the two countries.

Friday's announcement came after the head of the Saudi Survey Authority, Abdelaziz al-Saab, met with technical experts at the Saudi-Egyptian Coordination Council in Riyadh in late March during a meeting attended by Egyptian Prime Minister Sharif Ismail. 

The meeting also saw the two leaders sign 15 other agreements, the full content of which has not yet been made public.

There has been intense speculation in the Egyptian press over recent days that the agreements will include one that will see the sea borders between Egypt and Saudi Arabia reconfigured.

Sources told news site al-Bawaba on Friday that the agreement will see two disputed Red Sea islands, Tiran and Sanafir, transferred from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. 

However, there have been no official announcements regarding the islands.

Veteran Egyptian activist and professor Mamdouh Hamza on Friday criticised the secrecy that has surrounded the deals so far, writing on Twitter that he demands "a statement about how the borders are being reconfigured".

"I want any information about the border [deal]. Sisi does not have the right to capitulate."

The islands of Tiran and Sanafir, off the coast of Egypt's South Sinai province, have been disputed between Saudi Arabia and Egypt since 1906. 

Tiran Island marks the narrowest point in the Straits of Tiran, which is Israel's only access point from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Red Sea.

Egypt's blockade of the Straits of Tiran in 1967 was a major cause of the Six Day War with Israel.

The Camp David accords guaranteed Israel freedom of passage through the Straits of Tiran in exchange for normalised diplomatic relations. 

King Salman began a five-day visit to Egypt on Thursday at the request of Sisi.