Turkey rejects European Union claims that drilling off Cyprus is illegitimate

Turkey rejects EU claims that drilling off Cyprus is illegitimate

The Turkish-flagged drillship Fatih launched offshore drilling operations this May in an area 75 kilometers (42 nautical miles) off the western coast of the island of Cyprus.

Israel expressed support for Cyprus on Wednesday after Turkey vowed to continue drilling activities off the island nation's coast, which Nicosia has protested since they are bring conducted in its exclusive economic zone.

Cyprus says Turkey is encroaching in waters where the east Mediterranean island nation has exclusive economic rights, and the European Union has threatened sanctions.

"The drilling activities of our ship Yavuz are based on legal and legitimate grounds", the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement, rejecting Greek and the EU's claims that the drilling activities are illegal. A second vessel, the Yavuz drillship, has now sailed to an area off the Karpas peninsula on Cyprus' east coast. The Republic of Cyprus in the south of the island is a member state of the European Union, while the north of the island is controlled by the Turkish Republic of Cyprus which is only recognised by Turkey.

Turkey and Cyprus are at loggerheads over offshore gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean that are claimed by the Cypriots and disputed by Ankara.

The European Union said Monday the latest move by Turkey was an "unacceptable escalation", having warned Ankara to stop its "illegal" activities or face sanctions.

Cyprus was divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup.

The U.S. on Tuesday voiced concern over Turkey's gas exploration activities in the Mediterranean Sea, calling on the Turkish government to halt the activities.

"This provocative step raises tensions in the region", it added.

The United States and Egypt also joined a chorus of criticism this week, with Washington urging Turkish authorities "to halt these operations".

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