Two Turkish ships will begin drilling in search of oil and gas off Cyprus "in the coming days", Turkey's foreign minister said Thursday, in a move likely to stoke tensions on the divided island.
The discovery of gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has prompted claims by the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government and Ankara, which backs a breakaway Turkish Cypriot administration in the north of the island.
"We will start drilling operations off Cyprus, with two ships, in the coming days," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency.
European Union-member Cyprus has been pressing to develop offshore gas deposits and has signed deals with energy giants Eni, Total and ExxonMobil that have seen them carry out exploratory drilling.
Ankara claims that such exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the natural resources that surround the island.
Analysts fear there is a risk that the tensions over the resources could escalate into a major standoff.
"We will not stop searching for hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean simply because the Greek Cypriots do not want it," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday.
"We will continue our exploration operations."
In February 2018 a drillship for Italy's Eni abandoned an attempt to search for gas off Cyprus after it was blocked by Turkish warships.
Turkey has had thousands of troops stationed in the northern third of the island since invading in 1974 in response to a Greek military junta-sponsored coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece.
The northern part of the island was declared the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognised by Ankara. UN-sponsored efforts to reunify the island have failed.
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