Turkey sends armed drone to northern Cyprus amid gas dispute
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Turkey sends armed drone to northern Cyprus amid gas dispute

Turkish-controlled part of the island says drones partly a response to south’s acquisition of Israeli drones to monitor its exclusive economic zone

Illustrative -- Visitors at the International Defence Industry Fair, IDEF'17, in Istanbul, walk past a Turkish made drone aircraft at a booth, Wednesday, May 10, 2017 (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Illustrative -- Visitors at the International Defence Industry Fair, IDEF'17, in Istanbul, walk past a Turkish made drone aircraft at a booth, Wednesday, May 10, 2017 (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

A Turkish military drone was delivered to northern Cyprus on Monday amid growing tensions over Turkey’s deal with Libya that extended its claims to the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean.

The Bayraktar TB2 drone landed in Gecitkale Airport in Famagusta around 0700 GMT, an AFP correspondent said, after the breakaway northern Cyprus government approved the use of the airport for unmanned aerial vehicles.

It followed a deal signed last month between Libya and Turkey that could prove crucial in the scramble for recently discovered gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

The agreement claimed extensive areas of the sea for Turkey, undercutting claims by Greece and the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, which runs the southern part of the island.

Greece insists the deal with Libya — which has no fully functioning government able to rule across all of its territory — is unenforceable and has stressed that it will protect its sovereign rights. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said he would ask other NATO members at the alliance’s London summit, which was held in the first week of December, to support Greece, in the face of fellow member Turkey’s attempts to encroach on its sovereignty.

Analysts say Turkey is pushing back against rival efforts to claim exploration rights in the area after Cyprus, Greece, Egypt and Israel excluded Turkey from a new “East Mediterranean Gas Forum” that also includes Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian Authority.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Turkey, said approval for the drone was given last week “in light of the latest developments in the eastern Mediterranean region” and “to protect the legitimate rights and interests of the TRNC and Turkey.”

In this photo from July 9, 2019, a Turkish Navy warship patrols near Turkey’s drilling ship “Fatih” as it makes its way towards the eastern Mediterranean near Cyprus. (Turkish Defence Ministry via AP, Pool)

The TRNC’s transport minister, Tolga Atakan, said Turkish drones were partly a response to the acquisition of Israeli drones by Cyprus in October to monitor its exclusive economic zone.

Turkey has recently taken steps to increase its influence in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkish navy ships intercepted an Israeli research ship in Cypriot waters two weeks ago and drove it away, Channel 13 news reported Saturday, quoting senior Israeli officials.

The ship Bat Galim, of the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research institution, was approached by Turkish vessels while conducting research in coordination with Cypriot officials and the Cypriot government, the report said.

Meanwhile, Ankara has warned it will use its military forces if necessary to halt any exploratory gas drilling in waters off Cyprus that it claims as its own.

Cyprus has been divided since Turkish troops occupied the northern third of the island in 1974 in response to a coup sponsored by the Greek military junta.

Turkey already has two drilling vessels in the eastern Mediterranean despite the threat of European Union sanctions.

Ankara does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member, and says the TRNC has the right to explore around the entire island.

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