Turk­ish ac­tions off Imia islets raise the stakes

Er­do­gan is­sues threats to Greece, Cyprus

Kathimerini English - - Front Page -

Ten­sion has es­ca­lated dan­ger­ously in the Aegean as Turk­ish gun­boats yes­ter­day sur­rounded the Imia islets af­ter an in­ci­dent in the vicin­ity on Mon­day mid­night when a Greek coast guard boat was rammed by a Turk­ish pa­trol boat. The two coun­tries came to the brink of war over the islets in 1996.

Athens lodged a com­plaint with Ankara over the in­ci­dent but in a state­ment later yes­ter­day the Turk­ish For­eign Min­istry fueled ten­sion fur­ther, say­ing that the islets, known as Kar­dak in Tur­key, “be­long to our coun­try,” adding that it had in­formed the Greek For­eign Min­istry that the Greek armed forces have a height­ened pres­ence in the area.

Ac­cord­ing to re­li­able sources, the Turk­ish ves­sel rammed the Greek boat in­ten­tion­ally af­ter re­ceiv­ing clear in­struc­tions. Ex­er­cises in the re­gion by the armed forces of both coun­tries have led to a rel­a­tively large mil­i­tary buildup through­out the Aegean.

Mean­while, in a bid to defuse ten- sion, Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras talked yes­ter­day with his Turk­ish coun­ter­part Bi­nali Yildirim at Ankara’s re­quest.

Ac­cord­ing to Max­i­mos Man­sion, Yildirim de­nied the in­ci­dent at Imia was in­ten­tional, while Tsipras re­port­edly told his Turk­ish coun­ter­part in no un­cer­tain terms that Tur­key’s ac­tions were a vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law that un­der­mines GreekTurk­ish re­la­tions and Ankara’s ties with the EU.

For its part, the US State De­part­ment urged both sides to “take steps that will de-es­ca­late the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.”

Tur­key’s mus­cle-flex­ing in the re­gion came as its naval block­ade off the coast of Cyprus – ob­struct­ing a drill­ship con­tracted by Ital­ian Eni en­ergy gi­ant from ap­proach­ing Block 3 of the is­land’s ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone (EEZ) – en­tered its fifth day yes­ter­day.

In an in­cen­di­ary state­ment, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan warned both Athens and Ni­cosia not to “over­step the mark.”

“They are stand­ing up to us un­til they see our army, ships and planes,” he said.

Ankara claims that parts of the is­land’s EEZ be­long to Tur­key’s con­ti­nen­tal shelf and ac­cuses Ni­cosia of act­ing uni­lat­er­ally in its hy­dro­car­bon ex­plo­ration and ig­nor­ing the rights of the Turk­ish Cypri­ots.

“Our war­ships and se­cu­rity units are fol­low­ing all de­vel­op­ments in the re­gion with the in­struc­tion to do what­ever is nec­es­sary,” he said.

Mean­while, as two Ital­ian navy ships make their way to Cyprus, Eni hinted that it may not con­tin­u­ing drilling. Eni’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Clau­dio Descalzi told Ital­ian me­dia yes­ter­day that “we can­not wait for­ever. There is a dif­fer­ence be­tween Cyprus, Tur­key and the EU and it must be re­solved.”

For his part, Cyprus Pres­i­dent Ni­cos Anas­tasi­ades ex­pressed dis­may at Tur­key’s ac­tions and the rhetoric of its lead­er­ship but called for calm.

“There is no cause for any­one to be con­cerned. This is be­ing han­dled in a man­ner to avert any pos­si­ble cri­sis which could cre­ate prob­lems to the econ­omy or to the state,” he said. Euro­pean Par­lia­ment Pres­i­dent An­to­nio Ta­jani called on Ankara to “re­frain from en­gag­ing in dan­ger­ous provo­ca­tions in Cyprus’s ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters.”

A Greek coast guard boat is seen af­ter sus­tain­ing dam­age when it was rammed by a Turk­ish pa­trol ves­sel off the un­in­hab­ited Imia islets at around mid­night on Mon­day.

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