Israel says backs Cyprus gas exploration in east Med


Nov 5 (Reuters) – Israel said on Wednesday it supported attempts by neighbouring Cyprus to carry out natural gas exploration offshore, in spite of objections from Turkey challenging the endeavour.

Cyprus, a member of the European Union, has discovered sizeable gas deposits south of the island towards Israel, which has made massive hydrocarbon finds in the past decade.  

Turkey does not recognise Cyprus, which is ethnically split between its Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations. Nicosia has accused Ankara of dispatching a research vessel to collect seismic data, a precursor for possible explorations.

“We respect the integrity of Cyprus. You have your exclusive rights to explore in your economic zone for gas or oil reserves and we think it’s unnecessary to add other tensions to the problems of the Middle East,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters in Nicosia.

“I hope that the EU has enough power to be a real mediator and to take a reasonable position regarding the gas dispute and exploration in (Cyprus’s) economic zone,” he said.

Cypriot officials say Turkish authorities have issued a maritime advisory for activities south of the island until the end of December.

Cyprus discovered an estimated 5 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas in one offshore field in late 2011 and has licensed U.S. energy firm Noble, Italy’s ENI and France’s Total to search for gas.

Noble also has concessions over finds off Israel which border on Cypriot waters. Lieberman said he hoped the two countries could further energy cooperation in the future.

Relations between Israel and Turkey were severely damaged after a deadly raid by Israeli commandoes on a Turkish vessel carrying pro-Palestinian activists defying a Gaza blockade in 2010.

In Cyprus, the gas row has already triggered a suspension of peace talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The island was partitioned by a 1974 Turkish invasion that followed a brief coup engineered by the military junta then ruling Greece, and Greek Cypriots represent it in the EU.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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