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US Warns Turkey against Escalating Tensions over Drilling off Cyprus Coast

US Warns Turkey against Escalating Tensions over Drilling off Cyprus Coast

Wednesday, 10 July, 2019 - 06:30
Turkey's Yavuz drillship, escorted by a Turkish Navy vessel, crosses the Marmara Sea on its way to the Mediterranean, from the port of Dilovasi, June 20, 2019. (AP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
The United States expressed its concern on Tuesday over escalating tensions in the eastern Mediterranean prompted by Turkey’s attempt to drill for oil and gas in the waters off Cyprus.

In a warning to Ankara, the State Department urged “Turkish authorities to halt these operations” and encourage all parties “to act with restraint and refrain from actions that increase tensions in the region.”

“This provocative step raises tensions in the region,” it added.

Turkey on Wednesday rejected European Union condemnation of its drilling and said the bloc cannot be considered an impartial mediator for the divided island.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said Turkey will press ahead with efforts to safeguard Turkish Cypriots' rights until they are included in the island's decision-making mechanisms, including concerning the sharing of the island's resources.

Earlier, Egypt had also expressed reservations over Ankara’s actions.

A foreign ministry statement "stressed the importance of non-escalation and commitment to respecting and implementing international law."

Ankara's Fatih vessel entered Cyprus' exclusive economic zone in the west in May and has started drilling, while a second ship -- the Yavuz -- was deployed last month to search for oil and gas in the east.

The European Union said Monday the latest move by Turkey was an "unacceptable escalation", having warned Ankara to stop its "illegal" activities or face sanctions.

Ankara, which does not have diplomatic relations with Cyprus, claims that certain areas in Cyprus’s offshore maritime zone, known as an EEZ, fall under the jurisdiction of Turkey or of Turkish Cypriots, who have their own breakaway state in the north of the island which is recognized only by Turkey.

Cyprus has divided its EEZ off its southern coast into 13 blocks, or areas. Turkey says parts of three blocks off the island's west coast fall within its own continental shelf. Turkish Cypriots claim most of seven blocks in the east.

The Cypriot government says any potential gas proceeds will be shared equitably with Turkish Cypriots after a reunification deal is agreed upon and has created a fund into which all such revenues will flow.

Cyprus was divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Several peacemaking endeavors have failed and the discovery of offshore resources has increasingly complicated peace negotiations.

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