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Greek PM in Israel says Turkey a 'threat to regional peace'

AFP , Tuesday 16 Jun 2020
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks during a press conference alongside his Israeli coun
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks during a press conference alongside his Israeli counterpart in Jerusalem on June 16, 2020. (AFP)

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Tuesday accused Turkey of being a "threat to regional peace", following wide-ranging talks in Jerusalem with his Israeli counterpart.

In his first foreign trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Mitsotakis condemned "Turkey's aggressive behaviour in the eastern Mediterranean".

"We consider this activity to be a threat to regional peace and stability," Mitsotakis told journalists after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Along with Cyprus, Israel and Greece signed an agreement in January on building an undersea pipeline to carry gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.

Ankara stands opposed to the deal and has sent ships to search for energy reserves off Cyprus, while last week the Turkish military conducted an air and naval exercise in the eastern Mediterranean.

"I have raised with the prime minister the recent incidents of illegal and provocative Turkish behaviour at our sea and land borders," the Greek premier said, standing alongside Netanyahu.

Mitsotakis also criticised the "destabilising effects that Turkey has played vis-a-vis its relationship with Libya".

Ankara backs the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), based in the capital Tripoli, which for more than a year has battled rivals Libyan National Army commander Khalifa Haftar.

Turkey has sent air defence systems and drones and Syrian rebel fighters in support of the GNA, reversing earlier defeats to Haftar's forces.

The Turkish government additionally signed a controversial deal last year with the GNA that claimed gas-rich areas of the Mediterranean for Ankara, an agreement deemed "completely null and void" on Tuesday by Mitsotakis.

- Netanyahu praises 'common interests' -

Focusing on two-way ties, Netanyahu held off from criticising Turkey and was instead upbeat about Israel's partnership with Athens.

"We have common interests, we face common challenges, we have extraordinary common opportunities," he said.

The Greek delegation is the largest to visit Jerusalem in months, with Mitsotakis bringing six ministers including the defence, energy and tourism ministers.

Netanyahu said his government aims to allow Israelis to travel to Greece and Cyprus from August 1, if coronavirus infection rates remain low.

Greece started welcoming tourists from around 30 countries on Monday, following closures due to the pandemic, while Israel is yet to lift its ban on visitors imposed in March.

According to Israeli officials, the government is counting on Greece and other "friendly" countries to support it at the EU level.

The European Union is currently weighing retaliatory measures as Israel plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, a step included in a US peace initiative.

The Greek delegation will not travel to the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority officials, who have categorically rejected Washington's plan.

But in an interview published by Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, Mitsotakis said he would speak to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas "once I return to Athens".

"We want to see the Israelis and the Palestinians living alongside one another in peace and security," he said.

More than 450,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements, deemed illegal under international law, alongside 2.7 million Palestinians.

The Israeli government says it could start the process of annexing the settlements and the Jordan Valley from July 1, a move which the UN has warned may spark violence.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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