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Saudi king announces plans to build a bridge linking his country to Egypt

The plan appears to run counter to Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel. The Camp David Peace Accord stipulates that Israel retains open passage through the Strait of Tiran, and that's why an earlier plan was scrapped.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) and King Salman of Saudi Arabia (L) at a reception ceremony in Egypt.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) and King Salman of Saudi Arabia (L) at a reception ceremony in Egypt

Saudi Arabia and Egypt have agreed to build a bridge across the Red Sea to join the two countries.

Saudi King Salman made a televised announcement Friday shortly after meeting with his Egyptian counterpart during a state visit to Egypt.

"I agreed with my brother His Excellency President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to build a bridge connecting the two countries," Salman said.

"This historic step to connect the two continents, Africa and Asia, is a qualitative transformation that will increase trade between the two continents to unprecedented levels," he added.

This is not the first time the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt have talked of linking their two countries together, via the Strait of Tiran.

How much the bridge would cost and how long it would take to build were left unanswered amid the hoopla.

Earlier proposals carried a $4 billion price tag, which seems likely to be higher this time around.

Past plans projected a million annual users of such a bridge as Egypt seeks to repopulate the Sinai Peninsula and create an alternative land route to the hajj.

Fear for the coral reefs

But environmentalists have expressed concerns about the plan, in particular, the added stress that would be put on Egypt's already embattled coral reefs in places like Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh.

There is also no small matter of Israel's security concerns. A line in the Camp David Peace Accord between Israel and Egypt, apparently, stipulates that Israel's passage through the Strait of Tiran shall remain unhindered.

And this appears to be why a similar plan was scrapped back in 2005 by then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Minutes before Salman's announcement,

Sisi presented the king with the ceremonial Nile Collar

, and suggested they name the bridge "King Salman bin Abdel Aziz Bridge."

Following the king's announcement, representatives of both countries signed 17 investment deals and memorandums of understanding.

A government official valued the deals, not including the bridge, at about $1.7 billion (1.5 billion euros). The deals include an agreement to set up a university and homes in South Sinai, and a power plant.

This is Salman's first visit to Egypt since ascending to the Saudi throne in January 2015.

bik/jil (AFP, dpa)

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