Greek-Turkish tensions rise in crisis over eastern Mediterranean

Istanbul - A Turkish ship set sail on Monday to carry out seismic surveys in the eastern Mediterranean, prompting Greece to issue a furious new demand for European Union sanctions on Ankara in a row over offshore exploration rights. France expressed its concern after the Turkish vessel, the "Oruc Reis", began its voyage

Istanbul - A Turkish ship set sail on Monday to carry out seismic surveys in the eastern Mediterranean, prompting Greece to issue a furious new demand for European Union sanctions on Ankara in a row over offshore exploration rights. France expressed its concern after the Turkish vessel, the "Oruc Reis", began its voyage. It said Turkey must stick to commitments it has made in the dispute, refrain from provocative actions and show good faith. Greece's foreign ministry described the new voyage as a "major escalation" and a "direct threat to peace in the region". Turkey, meanwhile, accused Athens of fuelling tensions.

The "Oruc Reis" intends to carry out work south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo, which is close to Turkey's coast. Ankara had withdrawn the vessel from contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean last month to "allow for diplomacy" before an EU summit at which Cyprus sought sanctions against Turkey: "Turkey has proven it lacks credibility. All those who believed Turkey meant all it said before the European summit of Oct. 1-2 now stand corrected," Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on Monday. At the summit, the EU said it would punish Turkey if it continued operations in the region and that sanctions could be imposed as soon as December. Turkey's Foreign Ministry said Greece had no right to oppose its operations, which were 15 km (9.3 miles) from Turkey and 425 km from the Greek mainland. Defence Minister Hulusi Akar also said that Ankara's operations were within its continental shelf and it expected Greece to refrain from steps escalating tensions.

NAVY ESCORT

"They are doing everything to escalate tensions, - Akar said. - The Navy will provide the necessary escort and protection to our vessels as needed." Energy Minister Fatih Donmez wrote on Twitter that Turkey would "continue to explore, dig and protect our rights." Relations between Greece and Turkey are complicated by a range of disputes, from jurisdiction in the Mediterranean to ethnically split Cyprus. Greek government spokesman Petsas said Turkey had done the opposite of what it should have and the EU did not need to wait two months before taking action. "So the only issue here is to activate more drastic solutions, for Turkey to feel more stick and less carrot this time," Petsas said. French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in Paris: "We expect Turkey to meet its commitments, abstain from new provocations and show concrete evidence of good faith."

In a phone call on Monday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told European Council President Charles Michel that progress was needed to improve ties between Ankara and the bloc: "President Erdogan, who stated that Greece was continuing steps to escalate tensions in the eastern Mediterranean despite Turkey's well-intentioned approach, said he expected concrete steps from the EU to realise an Eastern Mediterranean conference proposed by Turkey," the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

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