* Netanyahu discusses energy in landmark trip
* Says search can be of benefit to region
* Turkey says Cyprus search encroaches on its jurisdiction
By Michele Kambas and Ari Rabinovitch
NICOSIA, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Cyprus and Israel discussed future energy cooperation during a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, as Turkey warned the island that it risked stoking tension by trying to tap offshore gas.
production in the eastern Mediterranean is set to soar after the discovery of huge offshore reserves that have sparked competing maritime claims by Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon and Israel.
Some of these reserves lie between Cyprus and Israel. In December, Texas-based Noble Energy, which is working with both countries, reported an offshore gas prospect of between 5 and 8 trillion cubic feet (tcf) in a Cypriot field.
It has found more than double that on the Israeli side of a maritime boundary.
Turkey, which invaded north Cyprus in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup, challenges the island’s jurisdiction to explore. On Wednesday, Ankara said new exploration attempts by Nicosia could escalate tension in the region.
Relations between Israel and Turkey, once close allies, have been strained in recent years, but Netanyahu appeared to have no inclination to get dragged into Ankara’s row with Cyprus.
“I came here to develop our bilateral ties, our economic ties in the field of energy,” said Netanyahu after talks with Cypriot President Demetris Christofias in Nicosia.
The two states were looking at a gas-sharing agreement to exploit reserves which fall on the maritime boundary between them, and gas delivery methods, he said.
“We are interested in developing peaceful relations for the benefit of the two countries and of the region as a whole. We have no ulterior motives and no hidden motives.”
Ankara said on Wednesday that Greek Cypriots, who represent Cyprus’s internationally-recognised government, were encroaching on Turkey’s continental shelf in declaring a new hydrocarbons licensing round.
The round opened on Feb. 11 for 12 offshore blocks. They all rim the southern part of the island under Greek Cypriot government control. Five of the blocks overlapped on Turkey’s continental shelf, the Turkish foreign ministry announced.
“Turkey .. will take all necessary measures to protect its rights and interests in the maritime areas falling within its continental shelf,” the foreign ministry said.
Ankara has urged Greek Cypriots to scrap their exploration plans pending a reunification deal on the island. Reunification talks are under way and mediators are keen for a deal this year.
Cyprus says it is within its rights to explore for hydrocarbons, even while the island remains divided.
“It is not we who threaten Turkey, but Turkey which threatens us,” said Christofias. “This is the problem. Turkey is the troublemaker, and not the cooperation between Israel and Cyprus.”