Tag Archives: East Mediterranean

Turkey swelling illegal drilling in Eastern Mediterranean – Cyprus accuses.

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Ahead of special summit on crisis, Cypriot leader raises alarm as EU chief warns Ankara against intimidating neighbours.

Cyprus has accused Turkey of extending “illegal drilling” in disputed Mediterranean waters but said it is ready to engage in dialogue with Ankara to resolve differences over exploration rights.

On Tuesday, Turkey extended the operations of its Yavuz energy drill ship in the disputed area off Cyprus until October 12, in a move that could stir tension between the island’s Greek Cypriot government and Ankara.

“Yesterday, unfortunately a Turkish NAVTEX to expand illegal drilling by the Yavuz vessel was extended when at the same time, a series of initiatives are ongoing that seek an end to Ankara’s unlawful actions and de-escalation,” President Nicos Anastasiades said on Wednesday, after a meeting with European Council President Charles Michel in Nicosia.

Yavuz will be accompanied by three other Turkish ships, according to a Turkish maritime notice that added “all vessels are strongly advised not to enter” the area, Turkish broadcaster TRT reported.

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Anastasiades’s comments come a week ahead of a special summit of European Union leaders on September 24-25 to discuss how to resolve the crisis between Cyprus and Turkey.

Anastasiades said Turkey was continuing its provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean, adding Cyprus would enter dialogue – but not under threats.

Meanwhile, the European Commission’s president on Wednesday warned Turkey against trying to intimidate Greece and Cyprus.

In her annual State of the EU speech, Ursula von der Leyen said Ankara was a key partner doing important work hosting refugees but stressed “none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbours”.

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Turkey, Greece and Cyprus have been locked in a dispute over energy resources and maritime borders in the region, with Ankara infuriating the EU countries by sending research ships with naval escorts to work in contested waters.

There have been fears of conflict erupting and Cyprus is pressing the rest of the EU to impose fresh sanctions on Ankara over the drilling, a move Turkey has decried as lacking legal basis.

“Turkey is and will always be an important neighbour, but while we are close together on the map, the distance between us appears to be growing,” Von der Leyen told the European Parliament.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and European Council President Charles Michel bump elbows after the news conference at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus September 16, 2020 [Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters]

“Yes, Turkey is in a troubled neighbourhood. And yes, it is hosting millions of refugees, for which we support them with considerable funding. But none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbours.”

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Greece and Cyprus can count on Europe’s “full solidarity on protecting their legitimate sovereignty rights”, she added.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called for European “solidarity” on the issue and a renewed migrant crisis.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said his country has been proposing to restart exploratory talks with Greece.

“Exploratory talks actually cover all disputed issues between Turkey and Greece … The previous government [in Greece] … didn’t want to actually restart. And this government also has not been willing to restart the exploratory talks, so we have to make an agreement,” he said.


#Newsworthy…

East Mediterranean: Greece lauds return of turkish research vessel.

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Greek government calls the departure of the Oruc Reis from disputed waters after weeks of tension ‘a positive step’.

A Turkish seismic survey vessel, whose research in a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean has been at the heart of a weeks-long standoff between Ankara and Athens, has returned to waters near southern Turkey – a move Greece said was a positive first step in easing tensions over offshore natural resources.

But Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar played down the significance of the move, saying the ship had returned to shore as part of scheduled plans and insisted it did not mean Ankara was “giving up our rights there”.

“There will be planned movements backwards and forwards,” Akar told state news agency Anadolu in Antalya, southern Turkey, on Sunday.

Neighbours and NATO allies Turkey and Greece have overlapping claims to continental shelves and rights to potential energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions flared last month after Ankara sent Oruc Reis to map out possible oil and gas drilling prospects in waters claimed by Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.

Turkey’s navy had issued an advisory earlier this month saying the vessel would continue operations in the area until September 12. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had said it would continue exploratory operations for longer but no extension to the advisory was issued as of noon.

Refinitiv ship tracking data showed Oruc Reis, along with two accompanying naval vessels, returned to a location just off the coast of Antalya.

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The move was welcomed by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Sunday.

“The return of Oruc Reis is a positive first step, I hope there will be continuity. We want to talk with Turkey but in a climate without provocations,” he told reporters in Thessaloniki.

Ankara faces potential sanctions from the European Union, which fully supports member states Greece and Cyprus, over the dispute. But many states, including Germany, want to defuse the stand-off through dialogue.

“A sanctions list exists as an option [against Turkey]. Our desire is not to see it implemented but it will be done if we see that the other side is not returning to the path of logic,” Mitsotakis said.

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The dispute over potential oil and gas reserves triggered a military build-up in the eastern Mediterranean, with Turkey and Greece both dispatching warships to the area and conducting military exercises to assert their claims.

The Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis [File:Turkish Ministry of Energy/Handout via Reuters]

Turkey has repeatedly said it is open to solving issues with Greece through dialogue but publicly rejected any conditions, including Oruc Reis halting operations, before negotiations.

“If there are those who set preconditions for Turkey, we have preconditions too and these preconditions need to be met,” Cavusoglu said during a news conference on Saturday, without elaborating.

Earlier in September, Mitsotakis said his country would only start talks with Turkey to resolve conflicting claims once Turkish “provocations” ceased.

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Turkey rejects EU criticism and says the bloc should remain impartial in the dispute, arguing the waters where exploratory natural gas drilling was being conducted were part of its Turkish continental shelf.

Turkey says it has a legitimate claim over the area in the eastern Mediterranean. There is no agreement between Greece and Turkey delimiting their continental shelves, while Turkey disputes any claims by Cyprus, with which it has no diplomatic relations.

Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Its internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government represents the whole island in the European Union, though its authority is effectively contained to the southern part. North Cyprus is an unrecognised Turkish Cypriot state recognised only by Ankara.

James Ker-Lindsay, a professor at the London School of Economics, said at the heart of the dispute is a 1924 maritime accord agreement between Turkey and Greece that is now outdated. He said Turkey is claiming one tiny Greek island is cutting off its access to vast gas resources.

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“It’s an incredibly complex problem. A hundred years ago the two sorted out their borders but times have changed. International law was in a very different place, you couldn’t explore deep waters. But with technology we’ve now been able to,” he told Media known to Noble Reporters Media.

Amid the tension, Mitsotakis on Saturday announced a “robust” arms purchase programme and an overhaul of the country’s military.

In a keynote address in Thessaloniki, he said Greece would acquire 18 French-made Rafale warplanes, four multipurpose frigates, and four navy helicopters, while also recruiting 15,000 new troops and pouring resources into the national arms industry and cyberattack defence. New anti-tank weapons, navy torpedoes and air force missiles will also be secured, he added.

Mitsotakis is believed to have hammered out the programme after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron during a southern European leaders summit in Corsica this week. France has strongly backed Greece in its burgeoning showdown with Turkey, as well as Cyprus.

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Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday took aim at Macron following French criticism of Turkish maritime activities in the eastern Mediterranean, as tensions between the NATO allies continue to escalate.

“You will have many more problems with me,” Erdogan said in a televised speech in Istanbul. “Don’t mess with the Turkish people. Don’t mess with Turkey.”

Separately on Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a diplomatic solution to the dispute between Greece and Turkey, saying continuing military tensions between the NATO allies only serve the alliance’s enemies.

“Increased military tensions help no one but adversaries who would like to see division in transatlantic unity,” Pompeo said after talks in Nicosia with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.


#Newsworthy…

Research machine at East Mediterranean heart moves back near Turkey shore

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Greek government calls the departure of the Oruc Reis from disputed area after weeks of tension ‘a positive step’.

A Turkish seismic survey vessel, whose research in a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean has been at the heart of a weeks-long standoff between Ankara and Athens, has returned to waters near the southern Turkish province of Antalya.

Neighbours and NATO allies Turkey and Greece have overlapping claims to continental shelves and rights to potential energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions flared last month after Ankara sent Oruc Reis to map out possible oil and gas drilling prospects in waters claimed by Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.

Turkey’s navy had issued an advisory earlier this month saying that the vessel would continue operations in the area until September 12. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had said it would continue exploratory operations for longer but no extension to the advisory was issued as of noon on Sunday.

Refinitiv ship tracking data showed Oruc Reis, along with two accompanying vessels, had returned to a location just off the coast of Antalya on Sunday.

The return of the Oruc Reis near Turkey’s southern shore was welcomed by the Greek government.

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“This is a positive step. We will see how this develops to make a proper assessment,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told Skai, a television broadcaster.

Military build-up
The dispute over potential oil and gas reserves triggered a military build-up in the eastern Mediterranean, with Turkey and Greece both dispatching warships to the area and conducting military exercises to assert their claims.

Turkey has repeatedly said it is open to solving issues with Greece through dialogue but had publicly rejected any pre-conditions, including Oruc Reis halting operations, before negotiations.

“If there are those who set pre-conditions for Turkey, we have pre-conditions too and these pre-conditions need to be met,” Cavusoglu said during a news conference on Saturday, withour elaborating.

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Earlier in September, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his country would only start talks with Turkey to resolve conflicting claims once Turkish “provocations” ceased.

Meanwhile, Turkish Minister of Defence Hulusi Akar said on Sunday in Antalya’s district of Kas that Turkey supports peace and dialogue “if our wishes and demands are fulfilled”.

His comments came as Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou visited the Greek island of Kastellorizo, located directly across the Mediterranean from Kas

The European Union, of which Greece is a member, has criticised Ankara for its actions and threatened sanctions as punishment.

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Turkey rejects the criticism and says the bloc should remain impartial in the dispute, arguing that the waters where exploratory natural gas drilling was being conducted were part of its Turkish continental shelf.

Pompeo in Cyprus
Amid the tension, Mitsotakis on Saturday announced a “robust” arms purchase programme and an overhaul of the country’s military.

In a keynote address in Thessaloniki, he said Greece would acquire 18 French-made Rafale warplanes, four multipurpose frigates, and four navy helicopters, while also recruiting 15,000 new troops and pouring resources into the national arms industry and cyberattack defence. New anti-tank weapons, navy torpedoes and air force missiles will also be secured, he added.

The Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis [File:Turkish Ministry of Energy/Handout via Reuters]

Mitsotakis is believed to have hammered out the programme after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron during a southern European leaders summit in Corsica this week. France has strongly backed Greece in its burgeoning showdown with Turkey, as well as Cyprus.

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Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday took aim at Macron following French criticism about Turkish maritime activities in the eastern Mediterranean, as tensions between the NATO allies continue to escalate.

“You will have many more problems with me,” Erdogan said in a televised speech in Istanbul. “Don’t mess with the Turkish people. Don’t mess with Turkey.”

Separately on Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a diplomatic solution to the dispute between Greece and Turkey, saying continuing military tensions between the NATO allies only serve the alliance’s enemies.

“Increased military tensions help no one but adversaries who would like to see division in transatlantic unity,” Pompeo said after talks in Nicosia with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.


#Newsworthy…

Turkish forces begin military exercises in Cyprus.

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France, meanwhile, says sanctions against Ankara are on the table during European Council meeting later this month.

Turkey’s armed forces on Sunday began annual exercises in the breakaway republic of Northern Cyprus – an entity recognised only by Ankara – as tensions continue to rise with Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey’s hunt for gas and oil reserves in waters claimed by Greece has put a huge strain on the relationship between the two NATO members.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday raised the stakes by warning Greece: “They will either understand the language of politics and diplomacy, or on the field through bitter experiences.”

As tensions run high, the Turkish military began its exercises called “Mediterranean Storm” with the Turkish Cypriot Security Command, Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter.

“The security priorities of our country and the TRNC [Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus] are indispensable, along with diplomatic solutions in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Oktay said.

The Turkish defence ministry also tweeted the military exercises, which last until Thursday, continued “successfully”.

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Cyprus is divided between the Greek Cypriot-run south – an EU member state – and the Turkish Cypriot north.

Turkey sanctions
Meanwhile, France said Turkey’s escalating conflict with Greece and Cyprus will be the main subject at this month’s European Council meeting, when sanctions will be considered against Ankara.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he and his counterparts in other EU countries had already discussed “the range of reprisals we could take with regards to Turkey”.

Turkey embarked on a military-backed hydrocarbon exploration venture in waters between Greece and Cyprus on August 10, ratcheting up tensions in a strategic corridor of the Eastern Mediterranean.

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Greece responded with naval exercises to defend its maritime territory, which were later bolstered by the deployment of French frigates and fighter jets.

‘Up to the Turks’
The dispute between NATO members has underscored the rising geopolitical risks in the area as Turkey pursues more aggressively nationalist policies under Erdogan.

The European Union’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell has also raised the possibility of sanctions against Ankara, but so far Paris has been unable to persuade other EU nations to join its hardline response.

Le Drian urged Erdogan to begin talks over its Eastern Mediterranean ambitions between now and the European Council meeting.

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“It’s up to the Turks to show that this matter … can be discussed,” he told France Inter radio. “If so, we can create a virtuous circle for all the problems on the table.”

While he declined to specify the type of sanctions Ankara could face, he said there was an “entire series of measures”.

“We are not short of options – and he knows that,” said Le Drian referring to Erdogan.

The European Council meeting is set to meet on September 24-25.


#Newsworthy…

East Mediterranean: Turkish leader, Erdogan threatens Greece.

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Turkish president warns Greece to enter talks over disputed Mediterranean Sea claims or face ‘painful experiences’.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Greece to enter talks over disputed eastern Mediterranean territorial claims or face the consequences.

“They’re either going to understand the language of politics and diplomacy, or in the field with painful experiences,” he said on Saturday at a hospital’s opening ceremony in Istanbul.

The two NATO allies have been locked for weeks in a tense standoff in the eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey is prospecting the seabed for energy reserves in an area Greece claims as its own continental shelf.

Cyprus has also accused Turkey of breaching its sovereignty by drilling in their waters. All sides have deployed naval and air forces to assert their competing claims in the region.

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“They are going to understand that Turkey has the political, economic and military power to tear up the immoral maps and documents imposed,” Erdogan added, referring to areas marked by Greece and Cyprus as their economic maritime zones.

He said Turkey was “ready for every eventuality and result”.

NATO said this week Greek and Turkish leaders had agreed to take part in technical talks to avoid accidents between their navies.

But Greece later said it had not agreed to the talks, leading to accusations from Turkey that the European Union country was shunning dialogue.

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Tanks to the border?
On Saturday, a Turkish news report said Ankara redeployed armoured personnel carriers from the Syrian border to the one it shares with Greece.

The Cumhuriyet newspaper said 40 tanks were being transported from the Syrian border to Edirne in northwest Turkey and carried photographs of armoured vehicles loaded on trucks.

A military official speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations said the deployment was a regular movement of forces and unconnected to tension with Greece.

Reporting from Istanbul, Noble Reporters Media said officials have only said, “This is within the planned activity, the responsibility of the second army, [which is] responsible for the areas of Syria, Iraq and Iran.”

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If the convoy is indeed heading to the border with Greece, then it is a part of the “diplomatic military arm wrestling in what is a tense situation between the two countries”, Dekker said.

“We just heard from Turkey’s president that … they won’t hesitate even going to a full-on military confrontation when it comes to defending what they say are their legitimate rights.”

Reporting from Athens, Noble Reporters Media said he does not believe the Greeks are concerned about the narrow land border they share with Turkey, as they have 1,300 tanks in their arsenal, most of which are “parked right there in the 130-kilometre-long stretch”.

“There is overwhelming armour opposite the Turkish border and that’s the only part of the Greek-Turkish theatre that the Greeks feel confident about,” Psaropoulos said.

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“What they’re less confident about is the vast swath of the Aegean sea and now eastern Mediterranean sea.”

He added after eight years of recession and austerity measures imposed by its eurozone partners, Greece has cut its defence budget by about half, now amounting to roughly 3 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

“The Greeks have traditionally spent very highly on defence. They are now unable to keep up with Turkey, which has almost triple the defence budget of Greece,” Psaropoulos said.

Practicing dogfights
Turkey on August 10 deployed the Oruc Reis research vessel and an escorting flotilla of warships to the waters between Cyprus and the Greek islands of Kastellorizo and Crete. The vessel’s stay in the contested waters has been extended three times.

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Greece responded by staging naval exercises with several EU allies and the United Arab Emirates, not far from smaller manoeuvres Turkey conducted between Cyprus and Crete last week.

Ankara said it has every right to prospect the region and accuses Athens of trying to grab an unfair share of maritime resources.

Simulated dogfights between Greek and Turkish fighter pilots have multiplied over the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean.

A Turkish and a Greek frigate collided last month, reportedly causing minor damage to the Turkish frigate but no injuries.

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Erdogan said Turkey has repeatedly expressed its willingness to come to a just agreement.

“Our word is sincere,” he said. “The problem is those before us disregard our rights and try to situate themselves above us.”

The crisis is the most serious in the two countries’ relations in decades. The neighbours have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s, including once over maritime resources in the Aegean.

Earlier, Ankara announced joint military exercises with northern Cypriot forces from Sunday to September 10. The air, land, and sea drills are held every year.


#Newsworthy…

Leaders of Greece, Turkey trades insult over East Mediterranean talks.

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Greek PM says cites Ankara’s ‘provocations’ as Turkish FM accuses Athens of lying over intentions to enter dialogue.

Tensions between Greece and Turkey over maritime boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean have been reignited as political leaders of both countries traded insults amid efforts by NATO to foster dialogue.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday his country would only start talks with Turkey to resolve conflicting claims once Turkish “provocations” ceased.

The war of words escalated last month after Turkey dispatched a seismic survey vessel to a disputed area for energy exploration following a maritime deal between Greece and Egypt. Turkey says the pact infringes on its own continental shelf.

“[Our country] can and wants to discuss the demarcation of maritime zones in the Aegean Sea, in the Eastern Mediterranean, based on international law. But not under threats,” Mitsotakis said during a meeting with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi, who is visiting Athens.

Mitsotakis made the remarks during a meeting with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi [Louisa Gouliamaki/Pool via Reuters]

“Once the provocations end, discussions will begin,” he said, adding that Greece’s foreign minister would deliver a letter from him outlining Athens’ case to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when the two meet in New York on Friday.

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Also on Friday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Greece and Turkey, both members of the Western alliance, had begun technical talks, but they had yet to agree on a deal to avoid accidental clashes in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Turkey on Friday accused Greece of shunning the dialogue and lying by denying it had signed up to NATO-brokered talks.

A Greek frigate collided with a Turkish one in August and the two NATO members staged rival war games in the energy-rich but disputed region last week.

Greek and French vessels sail in formation during a joint military exercise in the Mediterranean Sea [Handout/Reuters]

Stoltenberg has said Greek and Turkish leaders “agreed to enter into technical talks at NATO to establish mechanisms for military deconfliction to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents”.

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But Greece said later on Thursday that Athens never agreed to the technical talks, claiming Stoltenberg’s statement did not “correspond to reality”.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Greece did, in fact, agree to the proposal when it was made.

“Greece denied the secretary general’s (remarks) but the one lying here is not the NATO secretary general, it’s Greece itself,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara.

“Greece showed once more than it’s not in favour of dialogue.”


#Newsworthy…

Beirut explosions: Four tonnes of ammo nitrate found near port. [Lebanon]

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Lebanon’s army said it found the chemical near the entrance to Beirut port, the site of a powerful explosion last month.


Lebanon’s army has found 4.35 tonnes of ammonium nitrate near the entrance to Beirut port, the site of a powerful explosion last month, caused by a large stockpile of the same highly explosive chemical, that killed 191 people.

The military said in a statement on Thursday that army experts were called in for an inspection and found the dangerous chemical in four containers stored near the port.

Army engineers were “dealing with it”, according to the statement that was carried by the state news agency NNA.

There were no details on the origin of the chemicals or their owner.

The find comes almost a month after nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut’s port for six years detonated, wreaking death and destruction.

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Along with 191 people killed, more than 6,000 were injured.

Entire neighbourhoods were devastated, nearly 300,000 people were left homeless as the blast caused damage worth billions of dollars.

Lebanon’s government quit amid public anger in a nation already brought to its knees by an economic crisis.

The public remains anxious that more hazardous materials are being stored badly, putting them at risk.

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Days after the August 4 blast, French and Italian chemical experts working amid the remains of the port identified more than 20 containers carrying dangerous chemicals.

The army later said these containers were moved and stored safely in locations away from the port.

French experts, as well as the FBI, have taken part in the investigation into the explosion at the request of Lebanese authorities.

So far, authorities have detained 25 people over last month’s explosion, most of them port and customs officials.

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Earlier this week, a UN agency warned that more than half of Lebanon’s population risk facing a food crisis in the aftermath of the explosion that compounded the country’s existing woes.

“More than half of the country’s population is at risk of failing to access their basic food needs by the year’s end,” the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) said.

“Immediate measures should be taken to prevent a food crisis,” ESCWA executive secretary, Rola Dashti, said.

Dashti said Lebanon’s government must prioritise the rebuilding of silos at the Beirut port, the country’s largest grain storage.


#Newsworthy…

Turkey, Greece to meet over Mediterranean tension.

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Tensions running high over Turkey’s drilling activities, which Greece and Cyprus say violate their sovereignty.


Greece and Turkey are set to hold talks at NATO aimed at preventing clashes in the eastern Mediterranean, where they are at odds over maritime borders and gas exploration rights.

Tensions are running high over Turkey’s drilling activities, which Greece and Cyprus say violate their sovereignty, and both sides have deployed warships in a show of force, raising fears of conflict erupting by accident.

The two NATO allies have now agreed to get together to discuss ways to avoid an armed confrontation, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said.

“Following my discussions with Greek and Turkish leaders, the two allies have agreed to enter into technical talks at NATO to establish mechanisms for military de-confliction to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents in the eastern Mediterranean,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

“Greece and Turkey are valued allies, and NATO is an important platform for consultations on all issues that affect our shared security.”

With the talks set to be of a technical military nature, they are unlikely to bring a complete solution to the complex, long-running rivalry between Greece and Turkey.

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But observers hope they will at least offer an opening for further dialogue.

The decision to hold talks comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the two sides to reduce tensions and open diplomatic channels to ease the crisis.

Greek and French vessels sail in formation during a joint military exercise in the Mediterranean sea [File: Greek Ministry of Defence Handout/Reuters]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struck a defiant tone this week, extending the gas exploration mission and saying Ankara would not be intimidated by Greece’s support from European military powers such as France.

Large reserves of natural gas are believed to be located in the eastern Mediterranean, which Turkey is exploring in maritime areas claimed by Cyprus or Greece.

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Ankara sent out drillships to explore for energy on its continental shelf, saying it and the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) have hydrocarbon exploration rights in the region.

Greece has disputed Turkey’s current energy activities in the eastern Mediterranean, trying to box in Turkish maritime territory based on small Greek islands near the Turkish coast.

The European Union has been watching the escalating dispute with growing concern, with Germany spearheading efforts to get the sides to temper the rhetoric and settle their differences through talks.

The EU has repeatedly urged Turkey to stop its exploration activities and threatened to slap sanctions on Ankara if it refused to solve the dispute through dialogue.


#Newsworthy…


Update: France reform proposal for Lebanon in details.

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France proposed a detailed draft list of sweeping reforms it is pressuring Lebanon to implement by year’s end.


French President Emmanuel Macron, in a visit to Lebanon, has offered to help provide the crisis-hit nation with vital aid if its politicians make good on long-overdue reforms.

Speaking at the palatial French ambassador’s residence in Beirut from where Greater Lebanon was proclaimed by colonial France 100 years ago, Macron said he would rally international aid at an October donor conference aimed at rebuilding the capital after a devastating explosion last month and halting the country’s economic demise.

But “we will not give Lebanon a carte-blanche, or a blank check,” he added, noting that everything was conditional on whether the country’s fractious leaders could unite around change.

Even before the August 4 explosion that killed at least 190 people, wounded more than 6,000 and damaged wide swaths of Beirut, Lebanon had been drowning in economic crisis.

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Its government was seeking $20bn in financial aid, half from an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme and the other half from development funds pledged by a host of donor nations at a 2018 donor conference. An additional sum of nearly $5bn is now needed for the reconstruction of Beirut, as well as humanitarian assistance.

French President Emmanuel Macron and French Health Minister Olivier Veran visit Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut [Stephane Lemouton/Reuters]

Macron said Lebanese leaders had pledged to form a government with 15 days, which must then implement a host of reforms within one to three months.

Before the meetings on Tuesday, the French embassy distributed a “draft programme for the new government”, to the heads of political blocs, which Noble Reporters Media has obtained.

The French draft proposals get into the nitty-gritty details of public policy in Lebanon, underlining some laws and projects and sidelining others.

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Here are the main points:

COVID-19 and the humanitarian situation

  • The government will prepare and disseminate a coronavirus pandemic control plan “that includes support for the most vulnerable people”.
  • It will strengthen social safety net programmes for the population.

Aftermath of the Beirut explosion

  • The government will facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid – provided by the international community and coordinated by the United Nations – in an “expeditious, transparent and effective manner”.
  • It will put in place governance mechanisms to allow the disbursal of aid in a “transparent and traceable manner”.
  • It will begin reconstruction based on a needs assessment by the World Bank, EU and UN that estimated the value of damages caused by the explosion at up to $4.6bn.
  • The government will rapidly launch tenders for the reconstruction of Beirut’s port according to “neutral” standards.
  • It will conduct an “impartial and independent investigation” into the port explosion “that enables the full truth to be established regarding the causes of the explosion, with the support of Lebanon’s international partners … within a reasonable timeframe”.
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Reforms

  • The government will regularly exchange views with civil society regarding its programme and the reforms it entails.
  • It will immediately resume stalled negotiations with the IMF and rapidly approve measures requested by the lender, including a capital controls law and a “full audit” of the Central Bank’s accounts.
  • The French proposal also called for the approval of a timetable for working with the IMF within 15 days of the government gaining confidence. 

It goes on to propose time limits for sector-specific reforms.

Electricity sector

Within one month, the government will:

  • Appoint officials to the National Electricity Regulatory Authority according to Law 462/2002 “without amendments”, and provide the Authority with the resources to carry out its work.
  • Launch tenders for gas-fired power plants to plug Lebanon’s massive energy gap.
  • “Abandon” the controversial Selaata power plant project in its current form. The project is one President Michel Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement party have insisted on.

Within three months, the government will:

  • Announce a timetable for raising the price of electricity, “provided that this will first affect the most financially wealthy consumers”.
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Capital controls

Within one month:

  • Parliament should finalise and approve a draft law on capital control that should “immediately be implemented for a period of four years” after it is approved by the IMF.

Governance, judicial and financial regulations

Within one month, the government will:

  • Hold a meeting to follow up on the 2018 donor conference in which the international community pledged $11bn in soft loans, and launch a website dedicated to following up on projects, financing and related reforms.
  • Complete judicial, financial and administrative appointments, including members of the Supreme Judicial Council, the Financial Market Supervisory Authority and regulatory bodies in the electricity, telecommunications and civil aviation sectors, “in accordance with transparency and competency-based standards”.
  • Approve in Parliament a law on the independence of the judiciary.
  • Launch a study on Lebanon’s public administration by an “independent international institution” such as the World Bank or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) “with a specialised office”.
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Fighting corruption and smuggling

Within one month, the government will:

  • Appoint members of the National Anti-Corruption Commission and grant it the resources to launch its work.
  • Launch the track to accede to a 1997 OECD treaty on combating corruption.
  • Implement customs reforms with immediate effect.

Within three months, the government will:

  • Establish “control gates” and strengthen oversight at the Beirut and Tripoli ports and at the Beirut airport, as well as at other border crossings.

Public procurement reform

Within one month:

  • Parliament will prepare, adopt and implement a bill on public procurement reform.
  • The government will grant the Higher Council for Privatization the human and financial capabilities necessary to carry out its tasks.
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Public finances

Within one month:

  • Prepare and vote on a “corrective finance bill that explicitly clarifies the status of accounts for the year 2020”.

By the end of the year:

  • Prepare and approve a “harmonised” budget for the year 2021.

Elections

  • “The government will ensure that new legislative elections are organised within a maximum period of one year.”
  • “The electoral law will be reformed with the full inclusion of civil society, allowing Parliament to be more representative of the aspirations of civil society.”

At his speech later on Wednesday, however, Macron seemed to walk back his proposal for early polls, saying there was “no consensus” on early elections and that other reforms were the priority.


#Newsworthy…

United States partially lift ‘Military Goods Sale’ embargo on Cyprus after decades.

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US decision to remove blocks for one year on the sale of ‘non-lethal defence articles’ slammed by Turkey.


The United States has said it will lift for one year its decades-old arms embargo on Cyprus to allow “non-lethal” military goods to be sold to the Mediterranean island.

In a move which was immediately slammed by Turkey, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed Republic of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades of the change in a phone call on Tuesday.

From October 1, the US will remove blocks for one year on the sale or transfer of “non-lethal defence articles and defence services”, the State Department said.

Pompeo also “reaffirmed US support for a comprehensive settlement to reunify the island”, according to State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.

For his part, Anastasiades welcomed the lifting of the embargo, which the US imposed in 1987 in the hope that it could encourage the reunification of the island. He said the “positive” development “reinforce[d] the bilateral security relationship” between the two countries.

The US decision, however, drew immediate condemnation from Ankara.

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“It poisons the peace and stability environment in the region,” the Turkish foreign ministry said, adding it does “not comply with the spirit of alliance” between the US and Turkey.

If Washington did not reverse course, the ministry said, “Turkey, as a guarantor country, will take the necessary decisive counter steps to guarantee the security of the Turkish Cypriot people, in line with its legal and historical responsibilities.”

Eastern Mediterranean tensions
Cyprus has effectively been divided since 1974 when Turkish forces invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered Greek Cypriot coup seeking union with Greece. Repeated diplomatic efforts to solve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts have failed, often in acrimony.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed Republic of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades of the change in a phone call [Screen grab/Twitter]

The internationally recognised government of Cyprus controls the Greek Cypriot southern part of the island while Turkish Cypriots maintain a self-proclaimed independent state in the north, which is only recognised by Ankara. Greece, Turkey and Britain are guarantor powers of the island under a convoluted treaty which granted Cyprus independence from Britain in 1960.

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The US announcement came amid a surge in tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece over maritime borders and gas drilling rights, which also involves Athens-allied Cyprus.

Both Greece and Turkey have staged naval drills in the area to assert their sovereign claims. Meanwhile the European Union – which counts Greece and Cyprus as members – warned Ankara on Friday to pull back or face sanctions.

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said the decision recognised the importance of the US relationship with Cyprus, which he called “a reliable strategic partner for our nation”.

“It is in our national security interest to lift these outdated decades-long arms restrictions and deepen our security relationship with the Republic of Cyprus,” he said in a statement.

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NATO allies Turkey and the US have been at odds over

Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary of defence and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the announcement was just the latest hit to the ties between the two NATO allies.

“There is no doubt about the fact that Turkish-American relations are in very bad shape given the fact that the Turks have bought a Russian air defence system, which the US will compromise a lot of its capabilities in Turkey – in Incirlik [base] – and in Europe,” Kobb said, referring to Ankara’s purchase last year of the Russian S-400s, which Washington says are incompatible with the alliance’s defense systems.

“Obviously, the Turks are very upset about anything that empowers the majority of the people in Cyprus, the Greek Cypriots,” he added.

SOURCE: NOBLE REPORTERS MEDIA, NEWS AGENCIES


#Newsworthy…

Turkey: East Mediterranean gas exploration stressed.

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Turkish navy’s advisory says the Oruc Reis will continue working until September 12, a move Greece calls ‘illegal’.


Turkey says its Oruc Reis exploration vessel will carry out seismic surveys in a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean until September 12, provoking an angry response from neighbouring Greece.

The two NATO allies vehemently disagree over claims to hydrocarbon resources in the area based on conflicting views on the extent of their continental shelves in waters dotted with mostly Greek islands.

Both sides have held military exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, highlighting the potential for the dispute to escalate.

The Turkish navy announced the extension of the Oruc Reis’s mission late on Monday – it was previously scheduled to end on September 1.

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The advisory came after the European Union’s executive earlier on Monday called for dialogue with Turkey and demanded that Ankara refrain from unilateral steps that stoke tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

Greece’s foreign ministry called the advisory illegal and urged Turkey to ease tensions and work for stability in the region.

“Turkey continues to ignore calls for dialogue and to escalate its provocations,” the ministry said in a statement. “Greece won’t be blackmailed.”

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Greece will keep seeking maritime deals with its neighbours in the region, based on international law and the law of the Sea, the ministry added.

Last week, Greece ratified an accord on maritime boundaries with Egypt, following a similar agreement signed between Turkey and Libya.

Turkey’s latest advisory referred to a specific exploration area. On Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the Oruc Reis would continue working for the next 90 days as it moved gradually closer to the Turkish province of Antalya.

Seismic surveys are part of preparatory work for potential hydrocarbon exploration.

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Turkey has also been exploring for hydrocarbon resources in the Black Sea and discovered a 320-billion cubic metre (11.3 trillion cubic feet) gas field.

Separately, Turkey also said it will hold a military exercise off northwest Cyprus until September 11.

Turkey and Greece have held military exercises in the east Mediterranean, highlighting the potential for dispute over extent of their continental shelves to escalate [Greek Defence Ministry/AP]

Last week, the EU said it was preparing to impose sanctions on Turkey – including tough economic measures – unless progress is made in reducing soaring tensions with Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay slammed the EU threat as “hypocritical”.


#Newsworthy…

Gaza balloon attack: Israeli tank hit Hamas

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Head of Hamas political bureau said it will not back down from wanting to end the blockade on the Gaza Strip.


The Israeli army says its tanks have hit Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Sunday after Palestinian balloon attacks across the border continued.

An early-morning military statement said there had been airborne explosive and incendiary attacks into southern Israel on Saturday.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from any of the incidents.

Palestinian sources said an Israeli artillery shell was fired towards a field control point east of Khan Younis, and another shell east of Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.

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According to the Israeli fire brigade, the fire bombs – crude devices fitted to balloons, inflated condoms or plastic bags inflated with helium – have triggered more than 400 blazes in southern Israel.

The Israeli army has carried out attacks on Gaza almost daily since August 6, along with further tightening a devastating blockade it has imposed on the Palestinian territory since 2007.

Under the new measures, it banned the entry of fuel for Gaza’s sole power plant, plunging it into darkness.

The Gaza Strip has a population of two million people, more than half of whom live in poverty, according to the World Bank.

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The head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniya, said his movement – which controls the Gaza Strip – would not back down from wanting to end the Israeli blockade.

“Our decision and the decision of our people is to go ahead with ending this unjust siege in all its forms,” Haniya said in a statement issued by his office early on Sunday.

“The leadership of the movement is closely following the current situation in the Gaza Strip in terms of communications and mediation carried out by many parties to work to break and end the siege on the strip.”

An Egyptian delegation has been shuttling between the two sides to try to broker a renewal of an informal truce under which Israel committed to easing its 13-year blockade of Gaza in return for calm on the frontier between the two.

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It was joined this week by Qatar’s Gaza envoy Mohammed al-Emadi who delivered the latest tranche of $30m in aid to the territory on Tuesday before holding talks with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv.

Sources close to the Qatari delegation said Israeli officials had told al-Emadi they were willing to end a punitive ban on fuel deliveries for Gaza’s power plant and ease their blockade if there was an end to the incendiary balloons.

Financial aid for the impoverished territory from gas-rich Qatar had been a significant component of the truce, first agreed in November 2018 and renewed several times since.

Under those terms, Israel had said it would take other measures to alleviate unemployment of more than 50 percent in the territory of some two million people. Those have yet to materialise.


#Newsworthy…

Turkey blasts European Union on warning over East Mediterranean.

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Turkish VP refutes EU threat for sanctions as Turkish military gets ready to carry out military exercises off Cyprus.


Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay has slammed a recent threat by the European Union to slap Ankara with sanctions as “hypocritical” as his country prepares to carry out a military drill off the coast of Cyprus amid tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

Oktay’s comments on Saturday came a day after Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said the bloc was preparing to impose sanctions on Turkey – including tough economic measures – unless progress is made in reducing soaring tensions with Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.

“It is hypocritical for the European Union to call for dialogue and, simultaneously, make other plans regarding Turkey’s activities within our continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Oktay said on Twitter.

“We are proficient in the language of peace and diplomacy, but do not hesitate to do the necessary thing when it comes to defending Turkey’s rights and interests. France and Greece know that better than anyone.”

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The long-running dispute between Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, flared after both agreed to rival accords on their maritime boundaries with Libya and Egypt, and Turkey sent a survey vessel into contested waters this month.

The EU’s measures, meant to limit Turkey’s ability to explore for natural gas in contested waters, could include individuals, ships or the use of European ports, Borrell said.

“We can go to measures related to sectoral activities … where the Turkish economy is related to the European economy,” Borrell told a news conference, referring to possible sanctions.

The EU would focus on everything related to “activities we consider illegal”, he said.

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Military exercise
On Friday, Turkey said it will hold military drills off northwest Cyprus in the next two weeks.

The Turkish military issued an advisory to mariners, known as a Navtex, saying it would be holding a “gunnery exercise” from Saturday until September 11.

Tensions escalated this month after Ankara dispatched the Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel in a disputed area following the pact between Athens and Cairo [Yoruk Isik/Reuters]

Greece and Turkey have both held military exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, highlighting the potential for the dispute over the extent of their continental shelves to escalate into a confrontation.

Two weeks ago, Greek and Turkish frigates shadowing Turkey’s Oruc Reis oil and gas survey vessel collided, and Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense said Turkish F-16 jets on Thursday prevented six Greek F-16s from entering an area where Turkey was operating.

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Greece and Turkey are at odds over the rights to potential hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean, based on conflicting claims about the extent of their continental shelves.

Tensions escalated this month after Ankara dispatched the Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel in a disputed area following the pact between Athens and Cairo.

The agreement is seen as a response to a Turkish-Libyan accord signed in 2019 allowing Turkey access to areas in the region where large hydrocarbon deposits have been discovered.

Turkey is a formal candidate to join the EU, but its talks with the bloc have been in a deadlock for several years now.


#Newsworthy…