Alma Oilfields Re Turned to Egypt

The Alma oilfields on the Gulf of Suez, the last of the Sinai oilfields in Israeli hands, were formally returned to Egypt today in brief military ceremonies in the town of A Tour in southern Sinai. The Israeli flag was hauled down and replaced by an Egyptian flag.

The Israelis departed just two years after oil was first discovered at the Alma site. The wells built there provided Israel with two million tons of crude oil annually, a quarter of its total consumption. Their return to Egypt represents the first direct large-scale financial benefit to the Egyptians from their peace treaty with Israel.

Under an agreement recently concluded between the two countries, Israel will continue to receive two million tons of Sinai oil annually from Egypt. Israel will pay $23.50 per barrel, the price set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), during the first year. Negotiations are scheduled over the price of oil after that period. The Egyptians are expected to ask for $32.50 per barrel, a price recently quoted on the Rotterdam spot market.

2500-SQUARE-KM AREA ALSO RETURNED

Israel turned over a 2500-square-kilometer area in southwestern Sinai to the Egyptians today along with the oilfields. On Jan. 25, 1980, it will relinquish a much larger area including three strategic passes in central Sinai. Egypt will then control two-thirds of the peninsula. The new demarcation line will run from El’ Arish on the Mediterranean coast to Ras Mohammed on the Red Sea.

The final withdrawal from Sinai in 1981 will be to Israel’s original international border with Egypt. At that time Israel will give up the town of Yamit in the north and Ophira in the south along with its military airfields in Sinai.

The documents transferring the Alma oilfields to Egypt were signed at a separate ceremony today by Dr. Elozar Barak, director general of Israel’s national oil corporation, and Dr. Mahmoud Ayouti of the Egyptian oil company. The Egyptians intend to make A Tour their district headquarters in southern Sinai. The area is presently inhabited by some 1200 Bedouins.

The last Israeli technicians departed some days ago and the last tanker left Alma with 50,000 barrels of oil for Israel. A large sign on the local canteen wall was an epitaph for 12 years of Israeli presence there. It read, “The story is over.” (See related story, P. 4.)

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