Amid ongoing tensions with Turkey over disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean, the French military conducted training exercises with Greek forces on Thursday off the southern island of Crete, including in the maritime area reserved by Turkey’s Navtex earlier this month for seismic exploration.
The joint exercise saw the participation of the Greek frigates ‘Spetsai’, ‘Aegeon’, ‘Limnos’, and ‘Kountouriotis’ – the oldest ship in Greece’s frigate fleet at just over 40 years old. The French naval Task Force was composed of the frigate ‘La Fayette’ and the amphibious assault helicopter carrier ‘Tonnerre’, which had earlier this week travelled to Lebanon carrying relief supplies.
Thursday's exercise was in line with French President Emmanuel Macron's commitment to temporarily reinforce his country's presence in the eastern Mediterranean. France has called on Turkey to halt oil and gas exploration in disputed waters.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis discussed the situation in the region with Macron by telephone on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the French armed forces ministry said it was sending two Rafale fighter jets and the naval frigate 'Lafayette' to the eastern Mediterranean.
The frigate and the jets had arrived in Crete earlier on Thursday and carried out joint manoeuvres with Greek forces, the Greek defence sources said.
"Emmanuel Macron is a true friend of Greece and a fervent defender of European values and international law," Mitsotakis tweeted, in French, after the call with Macron.
Tensions have simmered between NATO allies Greece and Turkey in recent days over overlapping claims to hydrocarbon resources in Mediterranean waters.
A Turkish seismic vessel, the Oruc Reis, has been sailing between Crete and Cyprus since Monday, despatched by Ankara days after Greece signed a maritime deal with Egypt designating an exclusive economic zone between the two nations.
Turkey says it plans to open up some of the area for potential hydrocarbon exploration, and a precursor to that is collecting seismic data it can process and sell to potential bidders. Both countries lay claim to the area.
[Includes reporting by Reuters]