CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt, Israel, and the European Union on Wednesday signed a deal to increase liquified natural gas sales to EU countries, who aim to reduce dependence on supply from Russia as the war in Ukraine drags on.
The deal, stamped in a five-star Cairo hotel, will see Israel sending more gas via Egypt, which has facilities to liquify it for export via sea, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said.
"What a special moment," von der Leyen said in a joint news conference alongside Egyptian and Israel energy ministers. "I very warmly welcome the signing of this historic agreement."
She said the agreement was part of Europe's efforts to diversify energy sources away from Russia and import hydrocarbons from "other trustworthy suppliers" -- naming Israel and Egypt who have emerged as gas exporters in recent years following major offshore discoveries.
According to the deal, the EU will help Egypt and Israel increase their gas production and exploration in their territorial waters. It was not immediately clear how much gas the EU will import from either Israel or Egypt.
Last year, the European Union imported roughly 40% of its gas from Russia, and due to that has had difficulty imposing sanctions on Russia over its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Israeli Energy Minister Karin Elharrar said the deal was a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine which caused a European energy crisis. She also said it highlights increasing cooperation between Egypt and Israel, two former foes.
"This is a statement to those who see in our region only negative forces such as division and conflict," she said. "This MOU shows us that we are paving a new path of partnership, solidarity and sustainability."
Egyptian Petroleum Minister Tarek el-Molla described the deal as "an important milestone" for cooperation between Egypt, Israel, and the EU. He said it will lead to further cooperation between members of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, which includes Jordan, Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, France and Italy.
Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, in 1979, but economic agreements have been controversial in the Arab world's most populous country, where popular support for Palestinians runs high. Relations between the two countries have been steadily warming in recent years.
According to the deal, the Israeli gas will be brought via a pipeline to Egypt's LNG terminal on the Mediterranean before being transported on tankers to the European shores, Israel's Energy Ministry said.
Israel has two operational gas fields off its Mediterranean coast containing an estimated 690 billion cubic meters of natural gas combined, and a third offshore rig is in the works. It has already signed gas export agreements with neighboring Egypt and Jordan.
Egypt's extensive natural gas facilities on the Mediterranean have stood largely inactive since the country's 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
In recent years, the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi rehabilitated and modernized the facilities. In 2018, Egypt signed a $15 billion deal with Israeli company Delek Drilling and its U.S. partner, Noble Energy to transport natural gas there. Egypt aims to create a regional energy hub.