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Israel knew Egypt would hand Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia

Israel offered no objection to handover of Tiran and Sanafir as long as freedom of navigation was guaranteed, reports say
The Red Sea's Tiran and the Sanafir islands, on January 14, 2014 (AFP)

Egypt informed Israel in advance of its intention to transfer the sovereignty over two islands in the Gulf of Aqaba to Saudi Arabia, according to media reports.

During the talks with Egypt, Israel apparently said it did not oppose the move providing Israeli ships were guaranteed freedom of navigation in the area, Haaretz reported.

It also said the rest of the commitments Egypt made as part of the peace agreement with Israel are still to be honoured.

Saudi Arabia later made a public announcement confirming the agreement would stand, but said there would not be a renewed relationship with Israel.

"There will be no direct relationship between the kingdom and Israel due to the return of these islands," Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Egypt's CBC television on Sunday.

"There is an agreement and commitments that Egypt accepted related to these islands, and the kingdom is committed to these."

Legal experts and opposition figures in Egypt questioned the legitimacy of the deal to sell Tiran and Sanafir when it was announced on Saturday, saying that giving away authority over Egyptian territory was unconstitutional.

The move was condemned by the country's largest - but banned - opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.

"The Muslim Brotherhood hereby declares unequivocally that no one has the right to abandon the property and resources of the Egyptian people in exchange for a fistful of dollars, or in exchange for support for government policies sanctioning murder, detentions, violations, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings," the movement said in a statement.

The two islands control entry to the Gulf of Aqaba and the ports of Eilat and Aqaba in Israel and Jordan, respectively.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the issue during a security cabinet meeting two weeks ago and no immediate objecitons were raised.

"It relates to us and it does not bother us," Tzachi Hanegbi, who heads the Israeli parliament's foreign affairs an defence committee, told Israel's Army Radio.

"The Saudis, who are committed to freedom of shipping under international law, will not harm the essence of the agreement between Egypt and us in this regard and freedom of shipping in Aqaba and Eilat will remain as is."