ISTANBUL: Turkey on Saturday launched new military manoeuvres in the eastern Mediterranean expected to last two weeks, in a sign that heightened tensions between Ankara and Athens were likely to continue.
A dispute over maritime borders and gas drilling rights has reignited the long-running rivalry between Greece and Turkey, with the two neighbours staging rival naval drills.
In a message on NAVTEX, the international maritime navigational telex system, Turkey said it would carry out “shooting exercises” from Saturday until September 11 in a zone off the southern Turkish town of Anamur, north of the island of Cyprus.
Ankara already announced on Thursday that military exercises would take place on Tuesday and Wednesday in a zone further east.
In a sign of the volatility of the situation, Turkey’s defence ministry said on Friday that fighter jets had on Thursday intercepted six Greek aircraft which were approaching a zone where a Turkish research ship was deployed, forcing them to turn around.
It was the deployment of the Turkish research vessel Oruc Reis into Greek waters on August 10 that caused the current spike in tensions.
The EU on Friday warned Turkey it could face fresh sanctions — including tough economic measures — unless progress is made in reducing soaring tensions. Turkey responded angrily to the warning.
“The fact that the EU is appealing for dialogue on the one hand and at the same time making other plans reflects a lack of sincerity,” Vice-President Fuat Oktay said on Saturday. “Turkey will not hesitate to defend its interests,” he said.
Meanwhile, the European Union is considering new sanctions against Turkey because of its search for gas in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said.
Speaking after a two-day meeting of EU foreign ministers in Berlin, Borrell said that “in the absence of progress” in the matter, “we could develop a list of further restrictive measures.”
This would then be discussed during the next summit on September 24.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said widening the scope of sanctions against Turkey would have to be discussed at the summit, adding sanctions would not be issued until then.
“We want to give diplomacy a chance,” Mass said.
Tensions between Greece and Turkey have flared up over the past months, with Turkey continuing its hunt for gas in what Greece considers illegal drilling.
Concern is mounting that a military conflict could break out between Nato allies Greece and Turkey, as both have been carrying out manoeuvres in the region. Turkish and Greek vessels have reently confronted each other in the region. Turkey claims it is working in its own exclusive economic zone. — Reuters