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Erdogan defies Greece and Egypt as Turkey resumes Mediterranean drilling

Move comes as Athens and Cairo sign a deal granting them exclusive rights over promising gas exploration areas
Erdogan speaking to reporters after participating in Friday prayers at the Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul, 7 August 2020 (Reuters)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey had resumed energy exploration work in the eastern Mediterranean, despite a deal signed a day ago between Egypt and Greece granting them exclusive rights over the same area. 

"We have started drilling work again," Erdogan told reporters after participating in Friday prayers at the Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul. "We don't feel obliged to talk with those who do not have rights in maritime jurisdiction zones."

He added that Turkey's Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa, a seismic survey vessel, had been sent to the region to carry out its duties. The ship moved into waters off Cyprus in late July and remains in that region.

Earlier this month, Egypt said that part of a seismic survey planned by Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean potentially encroached on waters where Cairo claims exclusive rights. 

The deal between Greece and Egypt was first announced by Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry on Thursday during a joint press conference in Cairo with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias. 

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The two diplomats defended the deal, which designates an area of the eastern Mediterranean sea containing promising oil and gas reserves as their exclusive economic zone, as compatible with international law. 

But Turkey rejected the agreement as "null and void". 

Turkey's foreign affairs ministry said in a statement that there was no mutual sea border between Greece and Egypt, thus making a deal between the two worthless.

"It is without a doubt that Turkey will not allow any activity at the area in question and will resolutely continue to defend its legitimate rights and interests as well as those of the Turkish Cypriots in the Eastern Mediterranean," the Turkish foreign ministry said later on Thursday. 

Egypt and Greece have long been at odds with Turkey over territorial waters in the Mediterranean. 

Last year, Turkey penned a maritime delimitation agreement with Libya's Government of National Accord, in a move that escalated disputes over potential offshore gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

Egypt and Greece condemned the deal as ‮‮”‬‬illegal‮‮”‬‬ and a violation of international law. 

NATO members Turkey and Greece have overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources in their shared waters, prompting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to hold talks with both country's leaders to ease tensions.