NEWS

Ankara protests Israel-Cyprus gas pact

Turkish authorities yesterday warned that a bilateral economic deal between Cyprus and Israel aimed at mutual prospecting for oil in the eastern Mediterranean could strain ongoing United Nations-mediated talks aimed at reunifying the divided island.

According to Turkey?s semiofficial Anatolia news agency, the Turkish Foreign Ministry?s undersecretary, Feridun Sinirlioglu, warned Gaby Levy, Israel?s ambassador to Turkey, that the deal would have a negative impact. Sinirlioglu argued that ?such unilateral moves [on behalf of the Greek Cypriots] that ignore the will of the Turkish-Cypriot side will harm ongoing settlement talks on the island.?

Meanwhile, diplomatic sources told Kathimerini that Ankara aims to pressure Israel into breaking its pact with Cyprus. The sources said Ankara may use its ties with Lebanon and militant Shiite movement Hezbollah as a way of exerting pressure on Israel. Nicosia has made similar deals with Lebanon and Egypt, which Turkey also has urged the Arab nations to break.

Israel yesterday defended its decision. ?This agreement is an issue between Israel and Cyprus and it in no way affects a third country,? Israel?s Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. ?We do not see how a third country would have anything to say about it,? he added. Another unidentified Israeli official accused Turkey of ?monstrous chutzpah? for using ?as an argument its occupation of the northern part of Cyprus to denounce the deal.?

The agreement defines the sea border between Cyprus and Israel and delineates an exclusive economic zone between the two countries, allowing them to prospect for oil together. Already the discovery of a huge gas deposit off the Israeli port of Haifa, and close to Cyprus, has fueled great interest in the region?s potential.