Turkey accuses Israel of air incursion near Cyprus | News | DW | 17.05.2012
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Turkey accuses Israel of air incursion near Cyprus

Turkey's military says its warplanes chased an Israeli aircraft from airspace off territorially disputed Cyprus, where Turkey is seeking seabed deposits of oil and gas. The incident is said to have happened on Monday.

Israeli officials did not comment immediately on Turkey's claim that an Israeli plane was chased from Cypriot airspace by Turkish fighters on Monday.

Turkey's disclosure, made on Thursday, puts the spotlight back on offshore reserves in the eastern Mediterranean and a souring of Israeli-Turkish relations since 2010.

At that time, Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish ship carrying pro-Palestinian activists bound for Gaza and killed nine Turks. Israel has since sought to enhance ties with Greece and divided Cyprus which takes on the EU's rotating presidency in July.

Turkish F-16 jets lined up on the tarmac

Turkey has demanded and explanation for the incursion

Thursday's military statement alleged that the Israeli plane violated the airspace five times above the territorial waters of the KKTC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus), which is not recognized by the European Union or United Nations.

"Our 2XF-16 plane based at Incirlik was scrambled and our planes carried out patrol flights in KKTC airspace;" it said, adding that the type of Israeli plane chased away "could not be identified."

Division unresolved

A Turkish invasion in 1974 during a Greek-backed coup left Cyprus divided, with one third claimed by Turkish Cypriots and two-thirds held by Greek Cypriots.

Turkey still keeps about 30,000 troops in the island's north and is the only country which recognizes the self-declared Turkish Cypriot republic.

Last December the Greek Cypriot government reported an offshore natural gas discovery but extraction was challenged by Turkey.

Ankara in turn approved Turkish exploration off northern Cyprus, but that was opposed by the Greek Cypriot government, which claims the territory.

Separately, Israel has reported two major energy finds in coastal waters between Israel and Cyprus, considered an Israeli economic zone.

Claim coincides with fresh EU-Turkish talks

In Istanbul on Thursday, an EU team tried to restart talks with Turkey on controversial plans for Turkish accession to the 27-nation European Union. They began in 2005 but later stalled.

EU enlargement chief Stefan Füle and Turkey's Minister for European Union affairs Egemen Bagis said they had a "positive agenda" for working groups being formed to work through previously disputed policy "chapters" on issues such as visas, mobility, energy and trade.

Turkey fell out with the EU over its refusal to grant favorable trade conditions to northern Cyprus and the offshore race for oil and gas. Half of Turkey's trade is with the EU and three-quarters of direct investment in Turkey comes from the European bloc.

ipj/ccp (Reuters, AP, AFP)