France to boost military presence in eastern Mediterranean

France will boost its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean amid an escalating standoff between Greece and Turkey over oil and gas exploration in disputed waters.

France will send two Rafale fighter jets and the naval frigate ‘Lafayette’ to the region as part of plans to increase its military presence, the armed forces ministry said on Thursday.

French President Emmanuel Macron called the situation in the eastern Mediterranean “worrying”, and urged Turkey to stop its “unilateral” prospecting and “allow a peaceful dialogue” between the neighboring NATO members.

“I have decided to temporarily reinforce the French military presence in the eastern Mediterranean in the coming days, in cooperation with European partners, including Greece,” Macron said on Twitter on Wednesday.

Turkey and Greece, NATO allies, vehemently disagree over overlapping claims to hydrocarbon resources in the region based on conflicting views on the extent of their continental shelves in waters dotted with mostly Greek islands. The gas-rich waters of the region are also a frequent source of dispute between Turkey, Cyprus and Israel.

The Ankara-Athens dispute escalated this week when Turkey dispatched the research ship Oruc Reis accompanied by Turkish naval vessels off the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

Greece also deployed warships to monitor the vessel, which is currently sailing west of Cyprus.

Macron’s office, in a statement, said France’s increased military presence in the region was aimed at monitoring the situation and marked Paris’ “determination to uphold international law”.

Last month, the French leader called for EU sanctions against Turkey for what he described as “violations” of Greek and Cypriot sovereignty over their territorial waters. Relations between Paris and Ankara have also frayed over the conflict in Libya.

‘Risk of an accident’

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in a statement urged Turkey to show “sense” and warned the showdown in the eastern Mediterranean could lead to a military accident.

“We are vigilantly looking forward to sense prevailing, at last, in our neighboring country so that dialogue may be re-initiated in good faith,” the prime minister said. “The risk of an accident lurks when so many military assets are gathered in such a contained area.”

Athens would not seek to escalate the situation, he said, but added: “No provocation will though go unanswered.”

Hulusi Akar, the Turkish defense minister, echoed the sentiment in an interview with the Reuters news agency.

“We want to reach political solutions through peaceful means in line with international laws,” he said, but warned Turkey would continue to defend its “rights, ties and interests” in coastal waters.

Turkey says it has the longest coastline in the eastern Mediterranean but it is penned into a narrow strip of waters due to the extension of Greece’s continental shelf, based on the presence of many Greek islands near its shore.

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