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Cyprus, France and Italy conduct naval exercise as tensions rise

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Cyprus, France and Italy conducted a joint naval exercise off the island’s coast on Thursday in a show of strength as East Med tensions over energy rights simmer.

In the framework of Cyprus’ defence cooperation with France and Italy, an aeronautical exercise “PASSEX” was held Thursday within the island’s EEZ codenamed “CYP / FRA / IT 2019”, the Defence Ministry said.

Taking part in the military exercise was the French frigate Surcouf, the Italian frigate Martinengo with its NH-90 helicopter, a Cypriot offshore patrol vessel and National Guard navy seals team.

The training drills are aimed at improving the operational capabilities of the crews, enhancing the level of communication and understanding, promoting a spirit of cooperation and creating conditions for further development.

“The exercise also sends a message of synergy, determination and solidarity with the aim of freely exercising the sovereign rights of each country and maintaining a climate of stability and security in the South-Eastern Mediterranean region,” said the Defence Ministry.

This month a maritime deal signed by Ankara and the Libyan government in Tripoli triggered outrage from Greece and Cyprus.

The Turkey-Libya delimitation agreement ignored the territorial waters of Greek islands and cut through an area where Cyprus, Greece and Israel plan to build the EastMed gas pipeline to Italy.

Turkey threatens to block companies from energy exploration in Cyprus’ EEZ while sending its own vessels to drill around the island.

Ankara does not formally recognise Cyprus and argues Nicosia’s attempts to exploit the island’s resources infringe on the rights of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots.

Brussels rules Ankara’s stance as “illegal activity” against fellow member Cyprus.

“Italy, of course, continues to agree with European support for Cyprus,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the Italian parliament on Wednesday.

“It is important for the European Council to reaffirm its support for the EU member states in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as for full respect for international law,” he said.