ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria has summoned its ambassador to Spain for consultations over Madrid’s recent comments on Western Sahara, the foreign ministry said on Saturday.

“The Algerian authorities were very surprised by the surprising statements of the highest Spanish authorities on the issue of Western Sahara,” he said.

Algeria is one of the main gas suppliers to Spain and Italy.

Spain and Morocco decided to settle a diplomatic dispute on Friday as Madrid closed in on Rabat’s position on the Western Sahara conflict and said “a new phase in relations” had begun.[L2N2VL1TX]

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Spain has appeared to change its policy on Western Sahara which Morocco considers its own, but where an Algerian-backed independence movement demands a sovereign state.

Morocco said it had a letter stating that Spain considers the autonomy initiative it presented in 2007 to be “the most serious, realistic and credible basis for selling the dispute”.

Spain’s new stance on Western Sahara is an “unexpected” change from its previous neutral stance, which backed a United Nations plan for a self-determination referendum, an Algerian diplomatic source told Reuters. .

“It is a betrayal of the Saharawi people”, added the Algerian source.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry could not be reached on Saturday for comment.

(Additional reporting by Graham Keeley in Madrid; editing by Christina Fincher)

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