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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Saudi official hints at Qatar-canal announcement

Winner of the construction tender to be announced later this month

A general view of the Qatari side of the Abu Samrah border crossing with Saudi Arabia on June 23, 2017. AFP 
A general view of the Qatari side of the Abu Samrah border crossing with Saudi Arabia on June 23, 2017. AFP 

The Saudi government appears to be close to announcing the winner of a tender to dig a canal along the border with Qatar, effectively transforming the peninsula nation into an island.

The tender process for the ambitious project to dig a 60-kilometre navigable canal closed on June 25 with Saudi media reporting at the time that the results would be announced in September.

A senior government official signalled on Friday that the final approvals for the project may be in the works.

“I am eagerly awaiting details on the implementation of the Salwa island project, a great, historic project that will change the geography of the region,” Saud Al Qahtani, a senior adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said on Twitter.

Five unnamed international companies with experience in digging have reportedly submitted bids to carry out the work worth 2.8 billion Saudi riyals (Dh2.74 billion).

The canal will stretch from the town of Salwa just south-west of the Qatari border to Khor Al Adeed. It will be 200 metres wide and 15 metres to 20 metres deep, allowing ships up to 295 metres long and 33 metres wide to navigate it.

Roy Cooper / The National
Roy Cooper / The National

The channel will be set one kilometre back from the official border. Riyadh is looking to develop significant infrastructure along the canal, including a military base and an atomic waste storage dump to service nuclear power stations it plans to build in the country.

Seaports will be built in Salwa and in Aqlat Al Zawayed for shipping and marinas for pleasure yachts and water sports will be built along the banks of the canal near two planned holiday resorts with beaches.

The funding has reportedly been put forward by Saudi and Emirati private investors, and an Egyptian company will be involved in the undertaking.

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There is no set timeframe.

In April, Saudi border guards replaced the customs and passport departments along the frontier, effectively ending crossings and sealing Qatar’s only land border.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt suspended travel and trade ties with Qatar last June because of its support for terrorism in the region and its close ties to Iran.