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Iran Press TV

Turkey starts new drills in Mediterranean as tensions rise

Iran Press TV

Saturday, 29 August 2020 10:20 PM

The Turkish military has launched fresh war games in the eastern Mediterranean region, as tensions between Ankara and Athens mount over maritime borders and gas drilling rights.

During the drills, which started on Saturday and are expected to last two weeks, the Turkish military will carry out "shooting exercises" in a zone off the southern Turkish town of Anamur, north of the island of Cyprus, Ankara said in a message on NAVTEX, the international maritime navigational telex system.

Ankara had already announced on Thursday that military exercises would take place on Tuesday and Wednesday in a zone further east.

The dispute between Turkey and Greece over maritime borders and gas drilling rights has reignited the long-running Ankara-Athens rivalry, with the two neighbors staging rival naval drills.

The fresh war games were launched two days after Turkey intercepted six Greek F-16 jets in the Mediterranean in a sign of the volatility of the situation.

Video footage posted by the Turkish defense ministry on Friday purportedly showed Turkish Air Force planes preventing the Greek aircraft from entering the area where Turkey was operating. The F-16s had departed from the island of Crete and were heading towards southern Cyprus, Turkey said in a statement.

The current spike in tensions was caused by the deployment of the Turkish research vessel Oruc Reis into Greek waters on August 10.

The European Union on Friday warned Turkey it could face fresh sanctions -- including tough economic measures -- unless progress is made in reducing soaring tensions.

Turkey responded angrily to the warning.

Vice President Fuat Oktay said Saturday "the fact that the EU is appealing for dialogue on the one hand and at the same time making other plans reflects a lack of sincerity."

"Turkey will not hesitate to defend its interests," he said.

Other irritants have marred ties between Ankara and Athens including the question of migrants crossing from Turkey to Greece, Turkey's conversion of some Byzantine churches and cathedrals into mosques and Greece's intention to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles from the current six.

"You think we would accept such a thing?" thundered Otkay on Saturday, referring to Greece's maritime border plans.

"If this is not casus belli, then what is it?" he said using a Latin term for an act or event used to provoke or justify war, AFP reports.

This immediately sparked a strong response from Athens.

"The unprecedented perspective of Turkey that it can threaten with the use of violence neighboring countries when they exert their legal rights, is against the modern political civilization but also against the fundamental clauses of the international law," the Greek foreign ministry said in an English statement.

"We urge Turkey to understand that the international law is binding for all countries of the world. It's not applied selectively."

The crisis has split members of the NATO alliance and in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg stressed the need for "dialogue and de-escalation".

The Turkish presidency said Erdogan told Stoltenberg that "NATO should fulfill its responsibility against unilateral steps that disregard international law and harms regional peace."

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