A Greek police operation is underway on the island of Lesbos to move thousands of migrants and refugees left homeless after a fire destroyed their overcrowded camp into a new facility on the island.
Police said Thursday morning’s operation included 70 female police officers who were approaching asylum-seekers with the aim of persuading them to move to the new camp in the island’s Kara Tepe area. No violence was reported as the operation began.
The notoriously squalid Moria camp burned down last week in fires that Greek authorities said were deliberately set by a small group of the camp’s inhabitants angered by lockdown restrictions imposed after a coronavirus outbreak.
The blazes have left more than 1,200 people in need of emergency shelter. The vast majority have been sleeping rough by the side of a road leading from Moria to the island capital of Mytilene, erecting makeshift shelters made of sheets, blankets, reeds and cardboard.
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Fire destroys Greece’s largest refugee camp
Fire destroys Greece’s largest refugee camp
The new camp consists of large family tents erected in a field by the sea. By Wednesday night, it had a capacity of around 8,000 people, according to the UN refugee agency, but only around 1,100 mostly vulnerable people had entered.
Six Afghans, including two minors, were arrested on suspicion of causing last week’s fires at Moria. The blazes broke out after isolation orders were issued during a generalized camp lockdown, when 35 people tested positive for the coronavirus.
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Moria had a capacity of just over 2,700 people, but more than 12,500 people had been living in and around it when it burned down. The camp and its squalid conditions were held up by critics as a symbol of Europe’s failed migration policies.
British travellers who are on holiday in Portugal may face a 14 day quarantine when returning as coronavirus cases reached levels considered dangerous by the UK government.
In Scotland, travellers from Greece already have to quarantine, whereas in Wales, this only applies to those arriving from the island of Zante.
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Turkey flatly dismissed a US State Department objection to a recent Istanbul meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and two leaders of the militant group Hamas, whom the State Department has designated as “global terrorists”. The move will further strain relations in NATO and ratchet-up the already “fever pitch” tensions in the Aegean.
Instead, the Turkish Foreign Ministry called on the United States to use its regional influence for a “balanced policy” that will help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict instead of “serving Israel’s interests”.
The United States strongly objected to Erdogan’s hosting of the two Hamas leaders on August 22, according to a statement issued by the State Department on August 25. The Turkish snub followed the same day.
“Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the US and EU and both officials hosted by President Erdogan are Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The U.S. Rewards for Justice Program is seeking information about one of the individuals for his involvement in multiple terrorist attacks, hijackings, and kidnappings,” the State Department’s statement said, before adding, “President Erdogan’s continued outreach to this terrorist organization only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community, harms the interests of the Palestinian people, and undercuts global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza. We continue to raise our concerns about the Turkish government’s relationship with Hamas at the highest levels. This is the second time President Erdogan has welcomed Hamas’ leadership to Turkey this year, with the first meeting occurring February 1.”
Dismissing the statement, Turkey’s foreign ministry said that it considers the US “Declaring the legitimate representative of Hamas, who came to power after winning democratic elections in Gaza and is an important reality of the region, as a terrorist will not be of any contribution to efforts for peace and stability in the region.”
This is more of Ankara’s posturing, as it is vying to be seen as the protector of Palestinian interests after the UAE and Israel reached a landmark agreement early this month to establish diplomatic relations, a senior Western analyst told New Europe.
The latest war of words between Washington and Ankara comes amid a conflict that appears to be waiting to happen in the Eastern Mediterranean and amid fresh negotiations between Ankara and Moscow over the purchases of a second battery of the Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.
Ankara has already bought an S-400 battery for $2.5 billion in 2017 and installed it in 2019. The decision was a major snub of Turkey’s NATO allies who said the Russian hardware was incompatible with NATO anti-aircraft systems and its integration into Turkey air defense would enable Russian experts to study how to counter NATO gear and electronics. This prompted the US to threaten sanctions against Turkey and remove it from its F-35 Lightning II jet program in July.
To further deepen the rift, the Kremlin and Erdogan’s government signed a contract for a second delivery of S-400s to Turkey, Russia’s state arms exporter Rosoboronexport said on August 23.
The S-400 missile system is considered the most advanced of its kind in Russia, capable of destroying targets at a distance of up to 400 kilometers and a height of up to 30 kilometers.
Turkey is the first member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to purchase an air defense missile system from Russia. Ankara’s stubbornness and its blatant ignoring of NATO’s rules and guidelines are seen as a serious affront by most members. This will help many NATO members make up their minds to jump to Greece’s aid should the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean evolve into a full-fledged confrontation.
The German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, who just visited Athens and Ankara in a shuttle diplomacy move that was aimed at defusing the tensions and to bring the two sides to the negotiating table, warned on August 25 that “The current situation in the Eastern Mediterranean is … playing with fire, and any spark – however small – could lead to a disaster,” Maas said after meeting with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias.
Though Greece and Turkey are two NATO allies, they are historically bitter rivals with a mutual animosity that dates back centuries. The two are pitted against one another over energy resources, both claiming exploration and exploitation rights in the Mediterranean and both have launched rival navy drills in close proximity of each other. Their militaries are on high alert and both countries have deployed warships to shadow each other.
The dispute has in drawn in the European Union, with Maas saying that Germany, and the whole of the EU, will stand by Greece “in firm solidarity”.
Cyprus’ Defense Ministry said warplanes and navy ships from France, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus would be holding air and sea military exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean starting on August 26. France and Greece will deploy both aircraft and warships as part of the drills, while Cyprus will activate its air defense system to test its capabilities.
Ankara seems to be overstretching its capabilities and is hell-bent on making fresh enemies by the day, a senior analyst told New Europe. The Turks are now involved militarily against the Kurds in Syria and Iraq and are providing active combat support to anti-Syrian government forces in Idlib. Erdogan also has his military involved in ongoing operations in Libya and now the Mediterranean, and is now stepping on everybody’s toes in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, parts of North Africa, and even as far as Afghanistan.
All of this suits Moscow just fine, for the moment, the analyst warned. It will continue to be that way until the time and price are right for the Kremlin to play a constructive role. At that moment Ankara finds itself alone and overstretched.
Greece and Egypt signed a maritime border deal on August 6 with Turkey saying the deal falls in its continental shelf.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry reportedly said the agreement allows his country and Greece to move forward in developing promising natural resources, including oil and gas reserves in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).
“First, this is a positive development,” Charles Ellinas, a senior fellow at the Global Energy Center at the Atlantic Council, told New Europe on August 7. “The agreement is based on UNCLOS, recognising the right of islands, as it should. But it needs to evolve further to cover the eastern part of the two EEZs, delineation of which is affected by Cyprus and Kastellorizo. But it is an excellent start, reinforcing internationally accepted maritime principles,” Ellinas added.
But he argued that neither Greece nor Egypt will rush into drilling. He noted that both countries will need to complete EEZ delineation first – including Cyprus – and then divide their respective EEZs into exploration blocks. That would eventually enable the two countries to proceed with licensing rounds. Its only then that exploration and drilling can start, Ellinas said.
Greece hopes that the agreement between Athens and Cairo will effectively nullify an accord between Turkey and the internationally recognised government of Libya. Last year, Turkey and Libya agreed to maritime boundaries in a deal Cairo and Athens decried as illegal and a violation of international law. Greece maintains it infringed on its continental shelf and specifically that off the island of Crete.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the deal between Greece and Egypt falls in the area of Turkey’s continental shelf and violated Libya’s maritime rights.
Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told New Europe on August 7 Turkey and Greece were close in revitalising the exploratory talks on the demarkation of maritime zones. “Under the new circumstances, Ankara will freeze them, without providing a timeline. This entails that we should expect more tensions but I don’t think that we will reach a point of no return or that a ‘hot’ incident will emerge,” Filis said. Still, it seems possible that both the Turkish government and the government of Tripoli, which unfortunately acts as a puppet of the former, will rush to issue licenses to (Turkish state oil company) TPAO for blocks near Rhodes, Karpathos and Kassos as well as south of Crete. Then, Ankara might ask Athens to enter in the exploratory talks, in order to prevent seismic surveys in the aforementioned places,” he added.
Filis argued that the dire condition of the Turkish economy makes rapprochement with the European Union imperative. He noted that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, despite his rhetoric, has to improve ties with the Europeans, if he wants to restore credibility and attract foreign capital. “So, under the current circumstances, he should have no desire to enter into ‘adventures’ with Greece and the EU,” Filis said.
Tensions between Athens and Ankara flared up recently after Turkey said it would send a seismic research vessel into an area south of the Turkish coastal city of Antalya and the Greek island of Kastellorizo.
Ellinas reminded that Ankara since said it will hold off on the survey as both countries planned to revitalise talks. “Following Germany’s intervention, last week Turkey ‘paused’ activities to carry out offshore surveys near the Greek islands, south of Kastellorizo, in order to enable dialogue with Greece to address the disputes between the two countries,” he said, adding that it is not now clear how Turkey intends to proceed. Reportedly, not only it denounced the EEZ delineation agreement between Egypt and Greece, but it also terminated preparatory discussions with Greece. “This could be an over-reaction, but it is perhaps in line with Turkey’s approach to these issues – to enforce its views through intimidation and aggression,” Ellinas said, adding, “The only sensible way forward is dialogue. Let’s hope that this will eventually prevail”.
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fayez al-Sarraj, chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya
Arriving at today’s (9 December) EU Foreign Affairs Council, Josep Borrell Fontelles, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission was asked about the recent memorandum between Turkey and Libya that would give access to a contested zone across the Mediterranean Sea.
The memorandum of understanding on maritime borders signed between Turkey and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord is thought to have no legal standing and contravenes the provisions of the International Law of the Sea. Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and France, along with the EU and the US State Department. US State Department. The US State Department spokesperson stated: “The announcement of a signed Turkish-GNA delimitation memorandum of understanding has raised tensions in the region and is unhelpful and provocative.”
The agreement was endorsed by the Turkish parliament last week and prompted Greece to expel the Libyan ambassador to Greece. The agreement aggravates tensions that already exist over exploratory drilling in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone and a long-running dispute of Turkey with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt over oil and gas drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Greece has expelled the Libyan ambassador in response to the deal. Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said that he sided with Greece on the respect for international law. The Austrian minister for foreign affairs, Alexander Schallenberg said he was “a little bit astounding how they (Turkey and Libya GNA) split up the Mediterranean between themselves.”
Josep Borrell said that “it’s not a matter of sanctions today,” adding that ministers would study the “memorandum of understanding” agreed upon between Turkey and Libya. The Turkish and Libyan GNA MoU also includes a deal on expanded security and military cooperation. The agreement is considered to be illegal since it is contrary to the International Law of the Sea and has not been reached with the consideration of the legitimate rights of other states in the region.
Tags: Blok, Borrell, EU High Representative, exclusive economic zone, Greece, Libya, Turkey
Category: A Frontpage, Economy, EU, EU, European Commission, Politics
Turkey has signed an agreement with Libya’s internationally recognised government on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea that could affect oil and gas exploration of other countries and heighten geopolitical tensions in the volatile region.
Ankara reportedly announced the accord and a deal on expanded security and military cooperation on 28 November.
Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas told New Europe on 29 November that the immediate impact of the Libya-Turkey agreement is on the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of Greece and Egypt.
Both Greece and Egypt, but also Cyprus, have already strongly condemned this as not being in agreement with international law, blatantly ignoring the rights of islands. Cairo dismissed the deal between Ankara and Tripoli as “illegal” and Athens said the accord is “completely unacceptable” because it ignored the presence of the Greek island of Crete between the coasts of Turkey and Libya and summoned Turkish Ambassador Burak Ozugergin to the Greek Foreign Ministry, Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper reported.
Cyprus’ Foreign Ministry on 29 November also condemned the deal. “Such a delimitation, if done, would constitute a serious violation of international law,” an announcement said, CyprusMail reported. “It would be contrary to the recognised principle of the convention on the law of the sea and the rights of islands’ EEZ,” it added. “With the distortion of the law of the sea and the counterfeiting of geography – Turkey will gain no footing in the Eastern Mediterranean,” it concluded.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed that with the memorandum of understanding on the “delimitation of maritime jurisdictions Turkey is protecting “rights deriving from international law.” Reuters quoted him as saying that such accords could be agreed with other countries if differences could be overcome and that Ankara was in favour of “fair sharing” of resources, including off Cyprus.
Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told New Europe on 29 November Turkey’s illegal acts do not have legal repercussions. “Ankara’s attempt to agree with an unstable regime, which represents only part of Libya and therefore any deal it signs is uncertain, is a result of its isolation particularly from energy developments. Given that Turkey cannot agree with any other regional actor not only in the delimitation of the continental shelve or EEZ but also on how to stabilize the region and make it prosperous, it is left with no option but to approach a semi-rogue regime in order to showcase its regional power,” he said, adding that the message it wants to send is that any agreement or plan, including energy projects, cannot be fulfilled without Ankara’s consent.
Ellinas said the Libya-Turkey agreement indirectly affects Cyprus as well, as Turkey uses the same justification to delineate its ‘EEZ’ in the Mediterranean. “In effect, this ignores the entitlement of islands, including Cyprus and Crete, to an EEZ. Turkey defines its ‘EEZ’ to be coextensive with its continental shelf, based the relative lengths of adjacent coastlines, which completely disadvantages islands. It is a ‘unique’ interpretation not shared by any other country and not in accordance to the United Nations UNCLOS treaty, ratified by 167 countries but not Turkey,” Ellinas said.
He argued that Ankara appears to be picking and choosing, as it has used UNLOS principles to delineate its ‘EEZ’ in the Black Sea but does not accept them in the Mediterranean. “That may be challengeable under customary international law,” the Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO said.
“In all likelihood Turkey is doing this, as well as through its aggressive actions in carrying out exploration and drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ, in order to establish a position of strength from which eventually to enter into negotiations. But also as a reaction to the growing cooperation among almost all the other countries bordering the East Med. Turkey’s claims have no internationally recognised legal basis,” Ellinas said.
According to Filis, it is not clear whether there is an agreement – rather, it seems to be a preliminary step of expressing their intention to sign an agreement in the future. “But the most dangerous repercussion might be Turkey’s attempt to use it as a basis for projecting its supposed sovereign right to proceed with seismic activities in the area between Rhodes and Crete, especially in the southeastern part of the matter, thus confirming its strategic interest for the triangle between Crete, Kastellorizo and Cyprus,” he said.
Asked what could be the US and EU reaction to this agreement and how does it affect geopolitics in the region, Ellinas said both Washington and Brussels, and all other neighbouring countries in the East Med, recognise Cyprus’ and other countries’ rights to their EEZs declared in accordance to UNCLOS. He explained that as UNCLOS is not legally enforceable against a state that declines to sign and ratify it, the way to resolve this may eventually be through negotiations or arbitration on the basis of internationally recognised law and not through aggressive actions as Turkey is now pursuing.