Egypt warns Turkey over eastern Mediterranean economic interests

CAIRO, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Egypt on Wednesday warned Turkey against any infringement of its economic rights in the eastern Mediterranean under a maritime border demarcation agreement signed in 2013 with Cyprus that allows exploration for gas in the area.

The discovery of the massive Zohr gas field in 2015 has spurred a race for exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, an area that is believed to hold big natural gas deposits crucial for energy-hungry Europe.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu appeared to raise objections over the 2013 agreement when he announced that Turkey was planning to start exploration work in the eastern Mediterranean soon.

Cavusoglu accused Greek Cypriots of conducting “unilateral hydrocarbon activities in the eastern Mediterranean.” He was speaking in an interview with Greek Kathimerini newspaper published on Sunday.

“Turkish Cypriots, as co-owners of the island, have inalienable rights to the natural resources around it,” he told the newspaper.

In response, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid warned against any attempt to contest the 2013 accord and said it had been deposited with the United Nations.

“Abu Zeid warned against any attempt to infringe or diminish Egypt’s rights in that area,” the statement said, adding that any such attempt “was rejected and would be confronted”.

Relations between Cairo and Ankara have been strained since then army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.

Egypt has started production from the massive Zohr gas field, which was discovered by Italy’s Eni with an estimated 30 trillion cubic feet of gas. (Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)