Turkey starts flying drones over East Med for drilling work

The Bayraktar TB2 drone landed in Gecitkale Airport in Famagusta. (File/AFP)
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Updated 18 December 2019

Turkey starts flying drones over East Med for drilling work

  • Aerial vehicles ‘could be used for military support reconnaissance’

ANKARA: Turkey began sending unmanned aerial vehicles to Cyprus on Sunday Dec. 15, tightening its control over the region to oversee gas exploration.

The drones will escort drilling vessels and naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean, with the move seen as a new attempt to expand drilling activities in the area.

Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus allows Turkey to launch drones from the recently completed Gecitkale air base, in the eastern coastal city of Magusa. 

“In light of developments in the eastern Mediterranean region, and at the request of the Turkish Cypriot Peace Forces Command, the Turkish Cypriot government is allowing for activities of unmanned aerial vehicles at Gecitkale Airport to protect Turkey’s and Turkish Cyprus’ legitimate rights and interests,” the prime minister’s office of the self-declared Turkish regime in northern Cyprus said in a statement.

Turkey has already dispatched one exploration and two drilling vessels. The country also recently signed a controversial deal with Libya to determine maritime borders and to pave the way for joint drilling activities in the zone, fueling tension with the EU as well as Greece, Cyprus and Egypt.

Dr. Zenonas Tziarras, a researcher at the PRIO Cyprus Center, said this new development had been expected following the completion of the base.

“The new air base and the deployment of drones is about the enhancement of Turkey’s power projection in the eastern Mediterranean, which Ankara promotes as a tit-for-tat move,” he told Arab News.

The new air base and the deployment of drones is about the enhancement of Turkey’s power projection in the Eastern Mediterranean, which Ankara promotes as a tit-for-tat move.

Dr. Zenonas Tziarras, Researcher

Tziarras added the move comes amidst broader geopolitical tensions in the eastern Mediterranean that stem from the Turkey-Libya deal on maritime zones, and further escalates the ongoing crisis between Turkey, Israel, Cyprus, Egypt, and Greece.

“The further militarization of the crisis, especially in the context of power projection and coercive diplomacy, be it with drones, air or naval forces, can only have negative results,” Tziarras said.

Israel recently claimed that Turkish navy ships intercepted an Israeli research vessel sailing off the Cypriot coast conducting research in coordination with Cyprus two weeks ago.

For some, Turkey’s tactic in using northern Cyprus as a springboard for its drones has allowed it to observe Greek, Egyptian and Israeli drilling activities, while others claim that the drones could be used in Libya for military support reconnaissance.

Turkey began its fourth round of drilling in the eastern Mediterranean on Nov. 23, which is believed to have rich hydrocarbon reserves.

But its naval presence in waters off the south of Cyprus with its own drilling vessels has been harshly criticized by Brussels, which warned of possible sanctions against Turkish companies involved in these drilling activities.

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 21 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”


Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”