Turkey starts naval exercise amid Cyprus gas dispute

Turkey considers the area to be part of its continental shelf and granted exploration licenses to Turkish Petroleum in 2009 and 2012. (AFP/File)
Updated 13 May 2019
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Turkey starts naval exercise amid Cyprus gas dispute

  • The exercises, featuring 131 vessels, 57 planes and 33 helicopters, began early on Monday
  • They are due to last until May 25 and take place across the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black seas

ANKARA: Turkey’s military launched a major naval exercise on Monday at a time of rising tensions over its plans to explore for gas off the coast of Cyprus.
The exercises, featuring 131 vessels, 57 planes and 33 helicopters, began early on Monday, a Turkish defense ministry official confirmed to AFP.
They are due to last until May 25 and take place across the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black seas.
It follows Turkey’s announcement in May that it would carry out exploratory drilling off Cyprus up to September.
The European Union has said that will encroach on Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, while the United States described the move as “highly provocative.”
The international community does not recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, proclaimed after troops occupied the top third of the island in 1974 in response to a coup sponsored by the Greek military junta.
The discovery of huge gas reserves in the Mediterranean has fueled a race to tap the underwater resources.
Turkey considers the area to be part of its continental shelf and granted exploration licenses to Turkish Petroleum in 2009 and 2012.
The internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, which rules the rest of the island, has signed its own exploration deals with energy giants Eni, Total and ExxonMobil.
Speaking on Sunday, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar insisted Turkey would take all necessary measures to “protect its rights in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, and in Cyprus.”


Air raids kill 12 civilians in militant-held Syrian town: monitor

Updated 22 May 2019
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Air raids kill 12 civilians in militant-held Syrian town: monitor

  • The militant-dominated Idlib region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal
  • The Observatory said they have no proof of the chemical attacks

BEIRUT: Air strikes by Damascus or its ally Moscow killed 12 civilians in a market in Syria’s Idlib province, a monitor said Wednesday, and denied allegations that the government used chemical weapons.

Another 18 people were wounded when the warplanes hit the militant-held town of Maarat Al-Numan around midnight on Tuesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The market was crowded with people out and about after breaking the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

The Observatory said it had no evidence to suggest the Syrian army had carried out a new chemical attack despite Washington’s announcement it had suspicions.

“We have no proof at all of the attack,” Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.

“We have not documented any chemical attack in the mountains of Latakia,” he said.
The air strikes in Idlib came as heavy clashes raged in the north of neighboring Hama province after the militants launched a counterattack on Tuesday against pro-government forces in the town of Kafr Nabuda.
Fresh fighting on Wednesday took the death toll to 52 — 29 troops and militia and 23 militants, the Observatory said.
It said that the militants had retaken most of the town from government forces who recaptured it on May 8.
The militant-dominated Idlib region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal, but the regime and its Russian ally have escalated their bombardment of it in recent weeks, seizing several towns on its southern flank.
A militant alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, controls a large part of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

The northern mountains are the only part of Latakia province, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, that are not firmly in the hands of the government.

The Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham accused government forces on Sunday of launching a chlorine gas attack on its fighters in the north of Latakia province.

The Syrian army dismissed the reports as a fabrication, a military source told the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper.

But the US State Department said on Tuesday it was assessing indications that the government of president Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on Sunday.

“There were no civilians in the area,” Abdel Rahman said.

White Helmets rescue volunteers, who have reported past chemical attacks in rebel-held areas of Syria, told AFP Wednesday that they had no information on the purported gas attack.

International inspectors say Assad’s forces have carried out a series of chemical attacks during the Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011.
Russia and rebel ally Turkey inked the buffer zone deal in September to avert a government offensive on the region which threatened humanitarian disaster for its three million residents.
President Bashar Assad’s government has renewed its bombardment of the region since HTS took control in January.
Russia too has stepped up its air strikes in recent weeks as Turkey proved unable to secure implementation of the truce deal by the militants.
The Observatory says more than 180 civilians have been killed in the flare-up since April 30, and the United Nations has said tens of thousands have fled their homes.