France boosts its military presence with helicopter carrier in EastMed - live blog

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned Turkey on Wednesday against continuing its seismic surveying for offshore resources in contested areas of the eastern Mediterranean.

Greece has deployed naval vessels and the air force to shadow Turkey's seismic exploration ship Oruç Reis, which arrived with Turkish warships on Monday to its area of operation in a territorially disputed area – a move which Athens described as a threat to peace and stability in the region.

“We will never be the ones to escalate the situation. Yet, self-restraint is only one aspect of our power,” said the Associated Press, citing Mitsotakis in a televised statement on Wednesday evening. “No provocation will ... go unanswered. We have demonstrated that we will respond, if necessary. And we will do so again if it is required.”

The prime minister said Greece “(does) not fear even the toughest dialogue”, as it had faith in its positions, but that "dialogue becomes irrelevant in a climate of tension and provocation”.

He warned that the military build-up by Turkey and Greece could spark an incident, in which case Ankara would be held responsible.

“Let it be known: The risk of an accident lurks when so many military assets are gathered in such a contained area,” Mitsotakis said. “In such a case, responsibility lies upon the one who gives rise to these circumstances.”

The latest dispute revolves around the small Greek island of Kastellorizo, 2 km from Turkey’s southern coastline, that became a flashpoint between Greek and Turkish naval forces last month.

The two countries reached the brink of an armed confrontation at the end of July after Ankara’s decision to send the Oruç Reis escorted by warships to Kastellorizo to conduct oil and gas exploration. Ankara later said it would pause exploration and drilling for hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean for a month to reduce tensions with Greece and the European Union.

On Friday, however, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced his country would resume exploration in territory disputed with Athens, a day after Greece and Egypt signed a maritime deal that sets the sea boundary between the two countries and demarcates an exclusive economic zone for oil and gas drilling rights.

(All times Turkish time - GMT+3)


23:10 - Pentagon expresses concern over France-Turkey tension

A spokesman from the United States Department of Defence expressed concern over “some of the incidents that have taken place in the Mediterranean,” during a press briefing on Thursday.

Assistant to the Secretary of Defence for Public Affairs Jonathan Rath Hoffman said Turkey and France were “both incredibly important NATO allies, and we would like to see the tensions lowered.”

Hoffman said Pentagon would like to see the two countries “continue to work together and find solutions that do not involve the necessity of having warships or have aircrafts deployed in a less-than-cooperative environment.”


18:15 - Erdoğan holds phone call with Merkel

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the phone on Thursday, the Presidential Communications Directorate said in a statement.

Erdoğan told Merkel that Turkey “favours the resolution of issues in the Eastern Mediterranean within the framework of international law on an equitable basis and dialogue,” the statement said.​​​​​​


17:50 - Greek FM tells Israel that Turkish activities in East Med jeopardise security

Turkey’s “violations of international legality” pose a risk to stability in the Mediterranean, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said in a statement released after his meeting with his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu on Thursday.

“Turkey’s violations of international legality constitute a risk for all countries in the region and jeopardise security and stability,” Dendias said, thanking Israel “for its clear position on the issue of Turkey’s violations.”

Netenyahu issued a message of support after the meeting, saying: “I made it clear that we take seriously any aggressive action in the Eastern Mediterranean by any factor, including Turkey.”


13:05 - 'Win-win' solution to East Med crisis with Greece possible, Erdoğan says

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said a win-win solution to the ongoing crisis with Greece over hydrocarbon drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean is possible through dialogue, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Erdoğan also said he would discuss the recent developments in the region with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Charles Michel in a phone conversation later on Thursday.


12:40 - France boosts its military presence with helicopter carrier in EastMed

The French military conducted aeronautical drills with Greek forces in the eastern Mediterranean on Thursday, Reuters reported.

French assault helicopter carrier Tonnerre and frigate La Fayette took part in the joint military exercises, according to Kappa News.

France has called on Turkey to halt oil and gas exploration in disputed waters after Turkey sent Oruç Reis seismic vessels to the contested waters of the eastern Mediterranean.


10:35 - Turkish Foreign Minister discusses eastern Mediterranean with Finnish, Estonian counterparts

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu held telephone conversations with Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu and Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, state-run Anadolu news agency said. 

Anadolu said the eastern Mediterranean dispute was discussed in the conversations.


21:00 – Greek FM to visit Israel on Thursday

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias is set to visit Israel Thursday amid tensions with Ankara over control of Mediterranean gas fields, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

In January, Greece, Israel and Cyprus signed the East-Med gas deal to build an undersea natural gas pipeline from Israel to Europe.

Earlier on Wednesday, Lior Haiat, spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, expressed full support for Athens in the ongoing conflict with Ankara.


16: 55 – Turkey calls for dialogue in settling EastMed dispute with Greece

Turkey wishes to resolve the dispute in the eastern Mediterranean with Greece through dialogue, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said.

“Despite all this, we want to believe that common sense will prevail. Both on the field and at the table, we side with international law, good neighbourliness and dialogue,” Akar told Reuters. “We want to reach political solutions through peaceful means in line with international laws.”

Akar also said Turkey would continue to defend its “rights, ties and interests” in coastal waters, noting, “It should be known that our seas are our blue homeland. Every drop is valuable.”