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Vehicles wait to enter the British territory of Gibraltar at its border with Spain September 25, 2013. REUTERS/Jon Nazca


MADRID (Reuters) - Spain summoned the British ambassador on Friday to complain about Britain's handling of an incident on Wednesday involving the Spanish Navy near the disputed territory of Gibraltar.

Britain had summoned Spain's ambassador on Thursday after it said a Spanish Navy vessel had sought to redirect two commercial vessels heading to and from the port of Gibraltar on Wednesday because it said they were in Spanish waters. Britain said the vessels had been in international waters.

"Summoning ambassadors is a very serious step that should only be reserved for the gravest situations," the Spanish Foreign Ministry said in a statement, calling such a move inappropriate between allied nations.

"This incident is unacceptable interference by the United Kingdom in routine activities of the Spanish army in Spanish waters," the Ministry said.

The incident is the latest in a long line of diplomatic spats between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar, which Madrid ceded to Britain around 300 years ago, but now wants to reclaim.

The Spanish ambassador has been publicly summoned five times by Britain's Foreign Office over Gibraltar since the current Spanish government took office in December 2011.

(Reporting By Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Kevin Liffey)