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10.07.2019 Egypt

US, Egypt warn Turkey over drilling off Cyprus

Turkey's Fatih vessel entered Cyprus's exclusive economic zone in May 2019.  By - (AFP/File)
LISTEN JUL 10, 2019
Turkey's Fatih vessel entered Cyprus's exclusive economic zone in May 2019. By - (AFP/File)

The United States and Egypt on Tuesday warned Turkey against escalating tensions in the eastern Mediterranean over its attempt to drill for oil and gas in the waters off Cyprus.

"The United States remains deeply concerned by Turkey's repeated attempts to conduct drilling operations in the waters off Cyprus," the State Department said in a statement.

"We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint and refrain from actions that increase tensions in the region," it said.

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

The discovery of huge gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has set off a race to tap underwater resources, sparking a dispute between Turkey and EU member Cyprus.

Cairo expressed its concern over Turkey's "insistence to continue with unilateral measures that would increase tensions in the eastern Mediterranean region".

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.

Cyprus is divided between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus and a breakaway state set up after the 1974 Turkish invasion, following a coup sponsored by the military junta then ruling Greece.

Turkey insists that its actions abide by international law as it is in the territorial waters of the Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus.

Earlier this month, Cyprus said it has launched legal proceedings against three firms that it accuses of supporting illegal Turkish oil and gas exploration in its waters.

It also issued arrest warrants for Fatih's crew, accusing the ship of breaching the republic's sovereign territory.