UNITED STATES (VOP TODAY NEWS) — The Turkish army on Monday launched what it says is Turkey’s “biggest military maneuver” in the three seas surrounding the country and comes amid tensions over gas exploration off the divided island of Cyprus.
A source in the Turkish Defense Ministry told AFP that the exercise, announced last week, was launched on Monday.
The exercises in the Mediterranean, the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea, which are due to end on 25 May, include 131 military vessels, 57 aircraft and 33 helicopters, according to the army command.
The maneuvers come at a time of tension between Turkey and its American and European allies over gas exploration in the waters of the island of Cyprus.
The European Union and the United States expressed “concern” about Ankara’s intention to launch prospecting operations in the “exclusive economic zone of Cyprus”.
But Ankara ignored the warnings, saying it was not bound by the maritime demarcation agreements signed between the internationally recognized government in Cyprus and other Mediterranean coastal states.
The Turkish authorities announced in early May their intention to carry out natural gas exploration until September in a Mediterranean region that the Cypriot media say is entering the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus.
The Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union, exercises its authority only over two thirds of the south of the island, which is run by the unilaterally recognized and internationally recognized Government of the “Republic of Northern Cyprus”.
The discovery of huge gas fields in recent years in the eastern Mediterranean has created an increasing desire for surrounding countries to explore for gas.
The Republic of Cyprus signed contracts to explore and exploit the gas fields with giant companies such as Eni, Italian Total, France and Exxon Mobil.
But Ankara opposes any exploration and exploitation of energy resources excluding the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.
Speaking at a dinner with military officials on Sunday evening, Defense Minister Khulosi Akkar warned that Turkey would take all necessary measures “to protect its rights in Aegean and Mediterranean sea and in Cyprus.”
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