Turkish, Israeli officials meet amid row over Greek Cypriot oil exploration deal
The Israeli ambassador to Ankara visited Turkey's environment minister yesterday to express Israel's gratitude for Turkey's assistance during a recent fire, following Ankara's angry response to a new oil exploration deal between Israel and Greek Cyprus. Sources said the Israeli-Greek Cyprus deal was not discussed during the meeting between Environment Minister Veysel Eroglu and Israel's Gaby Levy. The visit was simply a gesture to express Israel's thanks to the Turkish government after it sent two firefighting planes to help contain a serious forest fire in northern Israel. While the fire aid prompted both sides to seek ways to normalize relations, which were strained by an Israeli commando raid of a Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla on May 31, the deal Israel signed with Greek Cyprus last Friday drew adverse reactions from Turkey. In a statement, the Foreign Ministry criticized the deal as an "unfortunate development," calling it "null and void" because it disregards the rights and jurisdiction of Turkish Cypriots. The deal delineates an exclusive economic zone between Israel and Greek Cyprus and will allow both countries to move ahead in the search for energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean. Last week, Foreign Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu summoned the Israeli ambassador to the ministry to convey Turkey's displeasure over the matter. "These kinds of agreements are directly linked to the sovereignty issue, which is one of the indispensable components of the ongoing comprehensive settlement negotiations," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, referring to talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders aimed at reunifying the island. "The Greek Cypriot administration does not represent in law or in fact the Turkish Cypriots and Cyprus as a whole. Therefore, agreements signed by the Greek Cypriots with countries of the region are null and void for Turkey." Israel is not the first country to sign such a deal, as Greek Cyprus has already concluded similar agreements with Egypt and Lebanon. "It is our earnest expectation from the international community and especially from the countries of the region that all would avoid supporting Greek Cypriots' unilateral activities that would have a negative impact on the comprehensive settlement negotiations," said the ministry. "Turkey, along with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), will continue its efforts, through diplomatic and political channels, to protect the rights and interests of the Turkish Cypriots." In an interview with Agence-France Presse, Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau brushed aside the Turkish criticism, saying, "The agreement with Cyprus clearly defines our rights in the Mediterranean."