Israel expressed support for Cyprus on Wednesday after Turkey vowed to continue drilling activities off the island nation’s coast, which Nicosia has protested since they are bring conducted in its exclusive economic zone.
Turkey’s announcement came amid tensions with the European Union, which has called on Ankara to cease its “illegal” activities.
The discovery of huge gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has sparked a dispute between EU member Cyprus and Turkey, which last month sent a second ship, the Yavuz, to search for oil and gas in the region.
“The drilling activities of our ship Yavuz are based on legal and legitimate grounds,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.
“We reject the statement made by Greek Foreign Ministry and EU officials that deem our country’s activities illegal,” it added.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon later tweeted that Jerusalem fully backs Cyprus in asserting it territorial rights.
“Israel follows with serious concern recent steps taken by Turkey in the waters off Cyprus’s northeast coast and reiterates its full support and solidarity with Cyprus in exercising its sovereign rights in its maritime areas and its opposition to any attempt to violate these rights,” Nachshon wrote.
Israel’s relations with Turkey have been at a low point for years following an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound boat in which nine Turkish activists were killed. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launches frequent verbal attacks on the Jewish state.
In May, Ankara sent the ship Fatih into Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone to begin drilling there, while the Yavuz was deployed last month to search for oil and gas to the east.
The European Union said in a statement on Monday that a second attempt by Turkey to drill for oil and gas was an “unacceptable escalation,” having already warned Ankara to stop its “illegal” activities or face sanctions.
The European Council said it was considering “appropriate measures” and would respond “in full solidarity with Cyprus” in light of the second exploration.
The United States and Egypt also joined a chorus of criticism this week, with Washington urging Turkish authorities “to halt these operations.”
Ankara says its actions abide by international law and that it is drilling inside its continental shelf.