Greece, Cyprus, Italy and France to hold military exercises from Wednesday

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Greece said it would launch military exercises on Wednesday with France, Italy and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, at the center of escalating tensions between Athens and Ankara.

The joint exercises in southern Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete will last three days, the defense ministry said.

The discovery of large gas fields in the waters surrounding Crete and Cyprus triggered a scramble for energy riches and rekindled old rivalries between NATO member Greece and Turkey.

Tensions were escalated when Turkey sent the research vessel Oruc Reis accompanied by warships to the disputed waters on August 10.

The Turkish seismic research vessel “Oruc Reis” is escorted by Turkish Navy ships in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo: AFP

“Cyprus, Greece, France and Italy have agreed to deploy a joint presence in the eastern Mediterranean as part of the quadripartite cooperation initiative,” the defense ministry said in a statement.

“Tensions and instability in the Eastern Mediterranean have increased disputes over maritime space issues.”

Turkey said on Tuesday it was ready for talks with Greece without preconditions.

The olive branch came ahead of an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Berlin on Thursday and Friday, in which Greece is expected to pressure the bloc to impose biting sanctions on its historic regional rival.

But EU countries would rather avoid angering the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas shuttles between Athens and Ankara in an attempt to temper rhetoric and get negotiations back on track.

Maas, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told the two countries to defuse the dispute or risk causing “catastrophe”.

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