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Report: Turkish ships force Israeli research vessel out of Cypriot waters

December 15, 2019 at 8:54am
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Turkish navy ships intercepted an Israeli research ship in Cypriot waters two weeks ago and drove it away, Israel’s 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.

The unnamed senior officials said the vessels radioed the Israeli ship, demanded to know its business in the area — despite not having jurisdiction there — and then ordered it leave. The Israeli ship had no choice but to comply and depart.

Turkey has recently taken steps to increase its influence in the eastern Mediterranean. It signed a maritime border agreement with Libya in November that has fueled regional tensions with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt over oil and gas drilling rights in the region.

The three countries, which lie between Turkey and Libya, blasted the maritime border accord, saying it was inconsistent with international law. Greece has expelled the Libyan ambassador over the pact.

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.

The Channel 13 report noted that tensions could negatively affect Israel’s plans for a submarine pipeline to transfer gas from its offshore reserves to Europe, which is set to pass through Cyprus and Greece’s territorial waters.

The report said an Israeli embassy official in Ankara was called in last week for a conversation, in which Turkish officials warned that the pipeline project would require Turkey’s approval.

“The Turks are trying to establish themselves as the ones running the show [in the region], and that is very worrying,” an official told the network.

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.