Turkey holds military drills in Aegean Sea amid tensions

Exercises come after Greece and France sent warships to eastern Mediterranean

(FILES) In this file handout photograph taken and relased by the Turkish Defence Ministery on July 9,2019 shows a Turkish Navy warship patroling next to Turkey's drilling ship "Fatih" dispatched towards the eastern Mediterranean near Cyprus. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkey had made its biggest-ever discovery of natural gas after completing new exploration work in the Black Sea.
Erdogan said the 320-billion-cubic-metre deep sea find was made at a site Turkish vessel Fatih began exploring last month, adding he hoped to see the first gas reach Turkish consumers in 2023, the 100th anniversary of the birth of the modern republic.
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Turkey's air and naval forces conducted joint training exercises in the Aegean Sea, its defence ministry said on Saturday, as relations with Greece over hydrocarbon discoveries strained.

F-16 fighter jets took part alongside warships to “enhance, maintain and improve the operational capability of joint inter-forces operations”, the ministry tweeted.

The announcement came as Nato members Turkey and Greece faced off in the eastern Mediterranean Sea over gas and oil exploration and a day after Turkey declared significant gas discoveries in the Black Sea.

Two weeks ago, Turkey sent a warship-escorted research vessel to prospect in waters where Greece claims exclusive rights to the seabed. Athens responded by sending warships to the area and placing its military on alert. France also sent warships and planes for joint drills with Greek forces.

Ankara says it has a right to prospect in the area between Crete, Cyprus and southern Turkey claimed by Greece, as well as in nearby waters claimed by Cyprus, and will carry on with its operations there.

The European Union has fully backed Greece’s maritime claims and sanctioned two Turkish energy executives.

Greece has called for wider sanctions against Turkey, while Cyprus accused the EU of "a policy of appeasement" towards Ankara. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said on Tuesday that the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell would present foreign ministers of the 27 member states with a list of options for new possible sanctions later this month.

The issue will be taken up again when the leaders of the EU’s seven Mediterranean countries meet in September and then at a full EU leaders’ summit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is spearheading efforts to get Greece and Turkey to resolve their dispute through talks.

Relations between Greece and Turkey have traditionally been tense. The two have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s, including once over drilling exploration rights in the Aegean Sea that separates the two countries.

France’s relations with Turkey are strained over Ankara’s involvement in Libya’s civil war.

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