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Greek PM says counts on EU support over Greek soldiers detained in Turkey

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras talks to media arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece will continue its bilateral efforts to secure the release of two Greek soldiers detained in Turkey but is also counting on the support of its European allies, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Friday.

The soldiers’ case has heightened tension between Greece and Turkey, NATO allies which came close to war as recently as 1996. They have seen renewed diplomatic strain over natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean and the fate of eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece after a failed 2016 coup in Turkey.

The two soldiers were arrested this month after crossing the border into Turkey in bad weather. Greece says the incident was the result of “a mistake” and has asked for their quick return.

Tsipras, speaking at an EU summit in Brussels, said he had assurances from the heads of the EU Commission and EU Council that the issue would be raised with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during talks in Bulgaria next week.

“We will continue our efforts through bilateral channels, but at the same time, we count on the official and open mobilization of our partners, our allies,” Tsipras said.

“We will remain focused on our effort to extend a hand of dialogue, a hand of friendship towards our neighboring country. We want cooperation, dialogue, peace,” Tsipras said.

EU member states expressed their concern over the continued detention of EU citizens in Turkey, including the two Greek soldiers, and called for a “swift and positive” resolution of these issues.

Reporting by Karolina Tagaris and George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Gareth Jones