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EU signs gas deal with Egypt, Israel to end 'dependency' on Russia

The European Union signed a memorandum of understanding with Egypt and Israel to increase gas supplies to the 27-member bloc in view of Russia's invasion of Ukraine
— Cairo (AFP)

Israel and Egypt plan to boost gas exports to Europe under an agreement signed during a Cairo visit Wednesday by the European Commission president as the bloc seeks to wean itself off Russian gas.

Ursula von der Leyen also pledged relief worth 100 million euros ($104 million) for food security in Egypt, which has been reeling from grain shortages as a result of the Ukraine war.

"Russia's war against Ukraine has exposed our European dependency on Russian fossil fuels, and we want to get rid of this dependency," von der Leyen told a joint press conference with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

"We want to diversify to trustworthy suppliers, and Egypt is a trustworthy partner."

She had vowed on Tuesday, during a visit to Israel, to confront Russia for its use of fossil fuels to "blackmail" European countries.

The memorandum of understanding on gas exports between Egypt, Israel and the EU was signed at the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, the Egyptian petroleum ministry said.

Under a landmark $15 billion deal in 2020, Israel already exports gas from an offshore field to Egypt, where it is liquefied and shipped to European countries.

But a significant increase in gas exports from Israel via Egypt would require major long-term infrastructure investments.

Von der Leyen also said Egypt had sun and wind power, "the energies of the future", in abundance, and that the EU and Egypt jointly exploring them was in "our common interest".

- Food security -

Von der Leyen pledged "immediate relief of 100 million euros" to support food security in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country, which has relied on Russia and Ukraine for over 80 percent of its wheat.

"It is very important that here we stand together, globally, to manage this food security crisis, that we find solutions that are fair for everybody, that we look at the distribution of grain, for example, worldwide, and that we really have an emphasis on vulnerable countries," von der Leyen said.

She also pledged three billion euros in "agriculture and nutrition, water and sanitation programmes over the next years here in the region".

"The European Union is very interested in investing in the local food production," she said.

"It is so important for us that in the region, the production of food is improved and increased, and thus the dependency from other regions is reduced," she said.

"Over time this will ensure stable supplies of quality and affordable food for all... Egypt will be at the heart of this major shift."

Sisi said von der Leyen's first official visit builds on the recent "intense momentum" of Egyptian relations with the EU.

During her Israel visit, von der Leyen had accused Moscow of deliberately cutting off gas supplied to European countries "in retaliation for our support to Ukraine".

"This is a big step forward in the energy supply to Europe, but also for Egypt to become a regional energy hub," she said in Cairo.

Egypt will host the UN COP27 climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh in November.

Later Wednesday, von der Leyen travelled to Jordan, where she met with King Abdullah II, calling Jordan "an essential partner for the EU" in comments on Twitter.

"You have a crucial role to play in the stability and prosperity of the region," she said.