Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will start exploring for gas in the eastern Mediterranean this year, comments certain to further upset neighbouring nations.
“We will start search and drilling activities as soon as possible in 2020 after issuing licences for the areas,” Erdogan said during a two-hour speech in the capital, Ankara.
He added Turkey’s seismic exploration vessel Oruc Reis would soon be deployed.
Turkey’s parliament approves military deployment to Libya
Amid Turkey deployment bid, France, Egypt urge restraint in Libya
Parliament head in east Libya: Turkey troops offer ‘unacceptable’
Ankara angered neighbouring countries in the Mediterranean with an agreement signed with the Tripoli-based government in Libya in November, which claimed extensive areas of the sea for Turkey to explore.
Greece said the deal fails to take into account the island of Crete, while Turkey has already upset Cyprus by sending ships to search for oil and gas off the divided island.
Erdogan said it was “no longer legally possible” for any search and drilling activities by other countries or a pipeline without Libya’s or Turkey’s approval.
Earlier this month, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel signed a deal to construct a pipeline to ship gas to Europe, despite Turkey’s vehement opposition.
Turkish forces on the ground
In his remarks, Erdogan also repeated that Ankara will send military forces to Libya to back the United Nations-recognised government based in Tripoli, the General National Accord (GNA).
Along with the maritime agreement, Turkey and Libya also signed a security deal in November, which was followed by the deployment of Turkish forces in the North African country.
While Turkey supports the GNA, countries such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates back Libyan renegade commander Khalifa Haftar in his assault on Tripoli against the GNA.
Erdogan added Turkey will continue to use all diplomatic and military means to ensure regional stability, including in Libya.
The Turkish leader first announced the beginning of a troop deployment to Libya early in January, but stressed Ankara would not send combat forces.
Sources told Al Jazeera about 180 Turkish forces are believed to already be in Libya acting as military advisers and trainers.
“So far, the Turkish military hasn’t stated anything about the potential size of the deployment to Libya to support the GNA, but we’re told the military will not be involved in combat,” said Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul.
Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) forces have been engaged in an offensive on Tripoli for more than nine months. The fighting has killed thousands of combatants and civilians, and displaced tens of thousands of others.
Erdogan’s remarks come days before a key conference on the Libya crisis in Berlin.
Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, headed to Libya on Thursday to persuade Haftar to join the summit on Sunday.
Maas said Haftar supports a temporary ceasefire and is also willing to attend the conference, but it remains to be seen if he will.
French President Emanuel Macron expressed hope for a successful summit.
Both the LNA and GNA conditionally agreed to a truce brokered by Turkey and Russia last week, however, new fighting has been reported.
Haftar’s troops have failed to breach Tripoli’s defences but in recent weeks made small advances with help from Russian mercenaries, news reports say.
That pushed Turkey, which has business interests in the country, to deploy soldiers to Libya to help the Tripoli government.