Cabinet reveals documents proving two Red Sea islands belong to Saudi

Tuesday 12-04-2016 06:27 PM

Tiran island - Instagram photo

CAIRO, Apr 12 (Aswat Masriya) – The maritime border demarcation agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia was based on legal documents and years of work, the Egyptian Cabinet said late Monday, dismissing the allegation that the decision was reached in a haste during the Saudi king's visit to Cairo.

On Saturday the cabinet announced that a maritime border agreement has been signed with Saudi Arabia stipulating that the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir fall within Saudi Arabia's territorial waters.  

The agreement came under heavy scrutiny from many Egyptians who argue the two islands belong to Egypt and should not be given up to Saudi Arabia.

In a phone interview with satellite channel ONtv on Tuesday, foreign ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abo Zeid affirmed the cabinet's determination to reveal documents in a "clear and transparent" manner for the public to be informed of the demarcation agreement.

"The final demarcation agreement could not have been announced before the committee had completed its work," Abo Zeid said, "the committee was done on Apr. 9 then the agreement was signed and announced to the public."

The aforementioned committee was delegated to study the matter and took six years to complete its work, according to the Egyptian cabinet.

The cabinet released Monday documents that support the claim that the islands belong to Saudi Arabia, including exchanged letters between Egyptian and Saudi foreign ministers as well as Egypt's note verbale to the United Nations in May, 1990.

The note was concerning the baselines from which the maritime areas under the "sovereignty and jurisdiction" of Egypt are measured including its territorial sea in the Mediterranean Sea and in the Red Sea. According to this note, the two islands are not within Egypt's territorial waters.

The cabinet also referred in its statement to an article published by the former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, in the American Journal of International Law in 1982, where he wrote that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir "have been under Egyptian occupation since 1950."

"Saudi Arabia, however, maintains the claim that the two islands are Saudi Arabian territory," ElBaradei continued.

However, ElBaradei said Tuesday via his twitter page that what he meant by the "occupation" of the islands in his 1982 article is the "possession and administration" of those islands by Egypt. He further stated that claims regarding the ownership of the islands should be made based on historical events,documents and in accordance with international law.  

The cabinet also referred to a New York Times article dating Jan. 19, 1982, which discussed Israel's concern over the transfer of the islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. According to this article, Israel said the transfer would "constitute a violation of the peace treaty."

Israel occupied the islands in 1967 during the Six Day war with Egypt.

Before the Six Day war, Egypt blocked the strait of Tiran, a move that prompted Israel to launch a preemptive attack against Egypt, that resulted in the Israeli occupation of the two islands along with the Sinai peninsula.

After signing the Camp David Accords that ended the state of war between the two countries, Israel handed the two islands back to Egypt.

The treaty guarantees Israel full maritime passage rights in the Red Sea and through the straits of Tiran.

Located at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, the two islands are strategically significant as they both control maritime activity in the gulf.

Abo Zeid said that prior to the transfer of the islands, Egypt's obligations as set by its peace treaty with Israel must be settled.

Israel signaled on Tuesday it did not oppose the return of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia by Egypt, Reuters reported.

Israel has no formal peace agreement with Saudi Arabia.

The maritime border demarcation agreement is yet to be ratified by Egypt's parliament.

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