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France joins Mediterranean naval patrols amid tension over oil & gas exploration

Greek and French vessels sail in formation during a joint military exercise in Mediterranean sea, in this undated handout image obtained by Reuters on August 13, 2020.
Greek and French vessels sail in formation during a joint military exercise in Mediterranean sea, in this undated handout image obtained by Reuters on August 13, 2020. via REUTERS - GREEK MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

France has deployed two Rafale fighter jets and navy ships to join Greek naval patrols in the Eastern Mediterranean, where a disagreement over exploration rights of new energy reserves has Greece and Turkey locked in a maritime dispute.

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President Emmanuel Macron ordered the deployment of two Rafale fighter jets and two navy vessels to the Eastern Mediterranean on Thursday to provide support for Greek naval patrols, amid rising tensions with Turkey. 

The ships and jets arrived in Crete and carried out joint manoeuvres with Greek forces, acording to Greek defence sources.

Thursday's exercise came after the French president vowed to temporarily boost France's military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying he was "concerned" by Turkey's "unilateral" exploration of the disputed waters.

Describing the situation "worrying", Macron called on Turkey to halt oil and gas exploration in a disputed area of the Mediterranean south of Crete.

Greece and Turkey have competing claims to natural gas reserves in the area.

"The unilateral decisions of Turkey (...) must cease in order to allow a peaceful dialogue" between the Nato allies, Macron tweeted.

This handout photograph released by the Turkish Defence Ministry on August 12, 2020, shows Turkish seismic research vessel 'Oruc Reis' heading in the west of Antalya on the Mediterranean Sea.
This handout photograph released by the Turkish Defence Ministry on August 12, 2020, shows Turkish seismic research vessel 'Oruc Reis' heading in the west of Antalya on the Mediterranean Sea. AFP - HANDOUT

Since Monday, a Turkish seismic vessel, the Oruc Reis, has been sailing between Crete and Cyprus to conduct research for potential hydrocarbon exploration.

Who's sea is it?

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said collecting seismic data is necessary before selling to potential bidders

The search for potentially rich oil and gas deposits is taking place south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo (Meis in Turkish).

Athens views the Oruc Reis's mission as a deliberate and unprecedented attempt to undermine the country’s sovereignty.

However, Greece's recent decision to sign a maritime deal with Egypt designating an exclusive economic zone between the two nations for oil and gas drilling rights has angered Ankara, which claims Athens is the one violating its sovereign rights.

Libya conflict

The Greek-Egyptian deal is in response to a similar agreement between Turkey and Libya’s Tripoli-based government last year that Egypt, Cyprus and Greece say is an infringement on their economic rights in the oil-rich sea.

Turkey's involvement in Libya has put a strain on its relations with Paris.

Last month, France pulled out of a Nato naval mission in the Mediterranean, accusing Ankara of blocking an inspection of one of its ships suspected of smuggling arms to Tripoli, in violation of a UN arms embargo.

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