France joins Cyprus for naval maneuvers amid tensions with Turkey

(VOVWORLD) -France and Cyprus are conducting naval maneuvers off Cyprus as the east Mediterranean island nation is embroiled in a tense dispute with Turkey over offshore gas drilling.

A French military spokesman, Colonel Frederic Barbry, said Saturday that two French frigates heading to Syria to take part in "routine" exercises in Cypriot waters this weekend. Barbry added that France, part of the US-led military coalition, maintains a naval presence off the coast of Syria for monitoring and coordination purposes.

The maneuvers come as a Turkish drill ship, which is escorted by warships, is poised to start drilling inside waters where Cyprus has licensed French energy company Total and Italian partner Eni to explore for gas.

Another warship-escorted Turkish drill ship began drilling in Cyprus' exclusive economic zone in June. Ankara said the exploration is based on Turkey’s “legitimate interest” because the exploration site is within Turkey’s EEZ. The European Union and other countries have considered Turkey's action an unacceptable escalation and called on Ankara to shortly end its illegal exploration activities otherwise it will face sanctions.