NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) - Cyprus says a deal by U.S. company Noble Energy to sell a 35 percent stake in its gas exploration rights in waters off the east Mediterranean island to Britain's BG International is an important step forward for the country's plans to supply Egypt with natural gas.

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) Cyprus says a deal by U.S. company Noble Energy to sell a 35 percent stake in its gas exploration rights in waters off the east Mediterranean island to Britain's BG International is an important step forward for the country's plans to supply Egypt with natural gas.

Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis said Monday that Noble Energy will keep a 35 percent stake and remain the operator of an area, or block, where it has discovered a field estimated to contain more than 4 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Lakkotrypis said the deal, which still needs Cyprus' approval, is a vote of confidence on the commercial prospects of Cyprus' offshore gas deposits. It also boosts the chances of developing the gas field since BG operates a gas processing plant in Idku, Egypt.