OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Cyprus on Wednesday accused neighboring Turkey of using "bullying behavior" in some of its harshest criticism yet of its old foe, locked in a decades-old standoff over the division of the island and recent natural gas finds.
Gas production is set to climb in the eastern Mediterranean following the discovery of huge offshore reserves that have sparked competing maritime claims involving Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon and Israel.
Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis told Israeli Army Radio in an interview that Turkey had held numerous and "provocative" military exercises in the Greek eastern Mediterranean over the past few months.
The show of force, she said, was an attempt to threaten Cyprus and Israel and try to discourage foreign companies from cooperating with the two countries in gas exploration and production.
"This is totally unacceptable behavior on the part of Turkey. It is bullying behavior," Kozakou-Marcoullis said.
Cyprus's attempts to tap offshore hydrocarbon riches has angered Ankara, which challenges Nicosia's jurisdiction in searching for oil and gas.
Last month Texas-based Noble Energy, which is working with both Cyprus and Israel, reported an offshore gas prospect of between 5 trillion and 8 trillion cubic feet for Cyprus, a find which could make it self-sufficient in the commodity for decades.
Gas production is also set to soar in Israel and it could become a major exporter from finds that could last for the next 40 years, its energy minister said.
Noble is working with Israel's Delek Energy to develop the "Tamar" field, with reserves estimated at 9.1 trillion cubic feet, and "Leviathan" which is nearly twice as big.
"I think (Turkey has not) succeeded. As you know Noble Energy is cooperating with both Israel and Cyprus and of course, they will continue to cooperate with us in the future," Kozakou-Marcoullis added.
Cyprus is ethnically split between Greek Cypriots representing an internationally recognized government, and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in north Cyprus. Reunification talks are ongoing.
Tensions over hydrocarbons riches have been simmering for years. One Cypriot official once described Turkey as "Pirates of the Mediterranean" for allegedly harassing exploration vessels in 2007.
The Turkish Cypriots and Turkey, which invaded north Cyprus in 1974 after a brief Greece-inspired coup, plan retaliatory exploration in northern Cyprus.
Israel and Cyprus have agreed their adjoining areas of maritime jurisdiction. Turkey, which controls northern Cyprus, disputes its border with Cyprus and Lebanon, which is in a state of war with Israel and has also not agreed on a joint border between the two.
The interview was broadcast on the eve of a visit to Cyprus on Thursday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It will be the first-ever visit to the island by an Israeli head of government.