Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 31 May 2020

First Turkish armed drone arrives in Cyprus amid gas dispute

Development comes amid growing tensions over Turkey's deal with Libya on newly discovered Mediterranean gas

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hands with Fayez Al Sarraf, the head of Libya's Tripoli-based Government of National Accord in Istanbul. A deal signed last month between Libya and Turkey could prove crucial in the scramble for recently discovered gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. AFP 
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hands with Fayez Al Sarraf, the head of Libya's Tripoli-based Government of National Accord in Istanbul. A deal signed last month between Libya and Turkey could prove crucial in the scramble for recently discovered gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. AFP 

Turkey sent a military drone to Northern Cyprus amid growing tensions over Ankara's deal with Libya that extended its claims to the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean.

The Bayraktar TB2 drone landed in Gecitkale Airport in Famagusta around at 7am GMT after the breakaway Turkish Cypriot government approved the use of the airport for unmanned aerial vehicles.

It followed a deal signed last month between Libya and Turkey that could prove crucial in the scramble for recently discovered gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

The agreement claimed extensive areas of the sea for Turkey, undercutting claims by Greece and the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus, which runs the southern part of the island.

Turkey warned it would begin sending drones, both armed and unarmed, to operate from Gecitkale from Monday.

Analysts say Turkey was pushing back against rival efforts to claim exploration rights in the area after Cyprus, Greece, Egypt and Israel excluded Turkey from a new "East Mediterranean Gas Forum" that also includes Jordan, Italy and Palestine.

Northern Cyprus, which is recognised only by Turkey, said approval for the drone was given last week "in light of the latest developments in the eastern Mediterranean region" and "to protect the legitimate rights and interests of the TRNC and Turkey".

Turkish Cypriot transport minister Tolga Atakan said the Turkish drones were partly a response to the acquisition of Israeli drones by Cyprus in October to monitor its exclusive economic zone.

Cyprus has been divided since Turkish troops occupied the northern third of the island in 1974 in response to a coup sponsored by the Greek military junta.

Turkey already has two drilling vessels in the eastern Mediterranean despite the threat of European Union sanctions.

The EU has called the activities illegal.

Ankara does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member, and says Northern Cyprus has the right to explore around the entire island.

Updated: December 16, 2019 04:02 PM

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