Egypt's Sisi says won't hesitate to send troops to Gulf if asked

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening ceremony of the 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 30, 2016. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt will not hesitate to send military forces into the territory of Arab Gulf allies to offer protection if asked by the leaders of those countries, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Wednesday.

The most populous Arab state, the recipient of billions of dollars in aid from the Gulf, has entered a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen but has yet to formally commit to sending ground troops. Sisi has often said that the Gulf's security is synonymous with Egyptian national security.

"The president made it clear that Egypt will not hesitate to send forces to brotherly Gulf counties to defend them if they face any direct threat or aggression," the presidency said in a statement. Sisi made his comments at a briefing with Kuwaiti journalists on Wednesday.

Egypt has received billions of dollars in aid from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates after Sisi, as military chief, ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.

Tensions are high between Sunni Arab Gulf nations led by Saudi Arabia on one side and Shi'ite Iran on the other after Iranian protesters in January attacked Saudi diplomatic buildings in response to the kingdom's execution of a prominent Shi'ite cleric.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are involved in several proxy conflicts in Yemen, where Iran backs Shi'ite Houthi rebels and Saudi Arabia backs the Sunni government, and Syria where Saudi-backed Sunni rebels fight the forces of Iran-backed President Bashar al-Assad.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)