Greece ratified a maritime border agreement with Egypt, hours after Turkey extended the operation of a seismic research vessel in the eastern Mediterranean and announced it would hold gunnery exercises in the region next week.
The Athens-Cairo agreement is seen as a response to a Turkish-Libyan agreement signed in 2019 allowing Turkey to access areas of the region where large hydrocarbon deposits have been discovered.
Under their treaty, Egypt and Greece are now allowed to make the most of the resources available in an exclusive economic zone, including oil and gas reserves.
A similar deal between Italy and Greece was approved on Wednesday.
Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Thursday that “their ratification is urgent” given “Turkey’s illegal activities”.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament that another bill would extend Greece’s coastal zone in the Ionian Sea from six (about 11 km) to 12 nautical miles (22 km) under international maritime conventions.
|Will Greece and Turkey fight for energy?|
Turkey and Greece – both NATO allies – are at odds over rights to potential hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean region, based on conflicting claims over the extent of their continental shelves.
Tensions escalated this month after Ankara dispatched the seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis to a disputed area following the pact between Athens and Cairo.
Turkey has said the pact violates its own continental shelf. The deal also straddles the sea areas that Turkey agreed with Libya last year, which Greece deemed illegal.
John Psaropoulos of Al Jazeera, reporting from Athens, said that “Greece got what it wanted legally and diplomatically” as a result of the maritime deal with Egypt.
“He has the support of Europe, he has the legal agreement with Egypt, a very good legal agreement with Italy,” he said.
“Greece now feels in a position of legal force to demand that Turkey agrees to have talks on the basis of international maritime law.”
Sinem Koseoglu, Al Jazeera correspondent in Istanbul, however, said that Turkey is unlikely to “come to a negotiating table” and that the Greece-Egypt deal means “military tensions will rise” in the region.
“But is this going to turn into conflict?” It’s always a question mark, ”she said.
Earlier on Thursday, the Turkish navy issued the latest advisory, known as Navtex, saying it would organize “gunnery exercises” in the eastern Mediterranean off Iskenderun, northeast Cyprus, on the 1st and September 2.
It also extended the seismic work of the ship Oruc Reis in southwestern Cyprus, until September 1.
Greece says Turkish opinions are illegal.
Maritime zones give a state rights over natural resources. Largely unexplored, the Eastern Mediterranean is considered to be rich in natural gas.
As the dispute widened, France said on Wednesday it was joining military exercises with Italy, Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said the deployment of French military planes to Cyprus violated treaties regarding the control and administration of the island after independence from Britain in 1960.
Aksoy said France’s stance dangerously encourages Greece and Cyprus to escalate tensions in the region further.
Cyprus was divided in 1974 following a Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup.
Turkey recognizes northern Cyprus populated by Turkey as a separate state, which is not recognized by other countries.
Greece announced on Wednesday its intention to extend its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea to 12 nautical miles (22 km) from its coast, starting at six nautical miles, after the ratification of a maritime agreement with Italy.
In eastern Greece, Turkey has warned that a similar movement from Athens into waters east of Greece would be a cause of war.