REUTERS - A delegation from American oil firm Noble Energy is in Egypt for talks with the state gas company about importing Israeli gas to energy-starved Egypt, sources at the airport and the oil ministry said on Sunday.
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Gas shipments could come from Israel's offshore Tamar gas field, which Noble operates, and whose partners have floated plans to connect the field with Egypt's Damietta LNG plant.
Israel's Delek Drilling, one of the partners in the field, said in November that if an agreement is signed, gas supplies to Egypt could start flowing in 2017.
Egypt has signed several deals in past months to import natural gas, which powers most of its homes and factories, but imports from Israel are potentially more sensitive because of the countries' rocky history.
The oil ministry source said Sunday's talks concerned the technical procedures for bringing natural gas from Israeli fields into Egypt.
"Negotiations are under way about the amount of gas that can be imported," the source said.
Another source at Cairo's airport earlier in the day said that a delegation came for several hours from Israel to discuss gas shipments.
Egypt's oil minister said two weeks ago that the country was open to Israeli imports.
Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, following three decades of intermittent conflict since Israel's creation in 1948.
While many Egyptians still view Israel with suspicion, relations have improved since the army toppled President Mohamed Mursi, an Islamist, in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.
The two countries also have a shared interest in containing the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and maintaining stability in the Sinai Peninsula where security has deteriorated since Mursi's ouster.
Egypt, which once exported gas to Israel and elsewhere, is going through its worst energy crisis in decades, with rising consumption and declining production turning it into an energy importer.
The government has tried to improve the energy landscape by slashing subsidies, paying down its debt to foreign energy firms, and negotiating import agreements.
After finalising a long-delayed deal for an LNG import terminal, it has reached agreements to receive gas from Algeria, and is in talks with Russia and Cyprus for gas shipments.