Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece and UAE condemn Turkey's actions in eastern Mediterranean

Foreign ministers also accuse Ankara of exploiting migrant crisis in Europe

In this Tuesday, July 9, 2019 photo, a helicopter flies over Turkey's drilling ship, 'Fatih' dispatched towards the eastern Mediterranean, near Cyprus. Turkish officials say the drillships Fatih and Yavuz will drill for gas, which has prompted protests from Cyprus. (Turkish Defence Ministry via AP, Pool)
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Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece and the UAE have condemned Turkey’s “illegal activities” and expansionism in pursuing natural gas in Cyprus' exclusive economic zone.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said the meeting on Monday was an attempt to highlight the importance of international law.

“The weight of the participating countries and their endeavour to enhance stability and the primacy of international law cannot be ignored,” he Tweeted on Tuesday. “[It was] an important platform established by the primacy of the language of international law over the laws of the jungle."

Representatives of the five nations held a teleconference to discuss what Cyprus says are six recent Turkish attempts to drill for gas in its territorial waters over the last year.

Turkey has declared areas around Cyprus stretching towards Libya part of its economic territory after signing an agreement with Libya last year.

Ankara says the deal, that also paved the way for it to deploy soldiers the war-torn country, grants it rights to drill in swaths of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It would also scupper plans by Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel to develop pipelines to Europe. Both Greece and Cyprus have led European criticism of the deal they say has no basis in maritime law and saying it contravenes international law and infringes on their own rights in the area.

Maritime borders and EEZs in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Maritime borders and EEZs in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

However, Turkey hit back at the meeting on Tuesday, describing the five participants as forming “alliance of evil”.

In a strongly-worded statement, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said the five countries were pursuing “regional chaos and instability” in the eastern Mediterranean and sacrificing Libyans’ “hope for democracy for the reckless aggression.”

Turkey first sent a drill ship escorted by a warship in July last year.

Turkish research vessels were also carrying out seismic surveys inside Cyprus’s economic zone.

Cyprus also considers that illegal and part of a “militarisation” by Turkey of the surrounding sea, putting “peace and security in the East Mediterranean at risk”.

After the conference, the ministers said Ankara’s activities represented “a clear violation of international law” as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“The ministers called on Turkey to fully respect the sovereignty of all states and their sovereign rights in their maritime areas of the eastern Mediterranean," their statement said.

The officials also condemned Turkey’s “systematic exploitation” of migrants, by encouraging them to illegally cross the Greek land border and by sea to reach Europe.

The ministers denounced the escalation of Turkey’s breaches of Greek national airspace, including flights over inhabited areas and territorial waters in violation of international law.

On Libya, the ministers recalled the commitment to refrain from any military foreign intervention as agreed at the Berlin conference in January.

They condemned Turkey’s military interference in Libya, and urged Ankara to fully respect the United Nations arms embargo, and to stop the influx of foreign fighters from Syria to Libya.

These developments constituted a threat to the stability of Libya’s neighbours in Africa as well as in Europe, the ministers said.

The EU has repeatedly condemned Turkey’s exploration off Cyprus, saying the activity breached the sovereign rights of a member nation.

In February, the EU froze the assets of two senior officials from the state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation and imposed European travel bans on them.

Turkey has said it was acting to defend its rights and those of Turkish Cypriots to the area’s energy resources.

Ankara does not recognise Cyprus as a state and claims as its own much of the island’s economic zone, part of which it says falls within its continental shelf.

Cyprus was divided along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aimed at union with Greece.

Only Turkey recognises a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the island’s northern third.

Cyprus joined the EU as a whole in 2004, but EU laws and benefits apply only to Greek Cypriots in the south where the internationally recognised government is seated.