Greek Cypriot energy minister says energy companies will drill in search of natural gas in waters off the east Mediterranean island's southern coast at eight separate sites over the next two years.
Speaking at a presentation of his ministry's works between March 2018 and April 2019 Georgios Lakkotrypis said Tuesday that exploratory drilling would take place at six of those sites, while the remaining two would be to confirm gas deposits already discovered there.
Lakkotrypis didn't specify the exact locations where the drilling would take place. He said that drilling would start at the end of this year or early 2020.
The Greek Cypriot drilling statement came after the Greek Cypriot Defense Ministry announced a joint military exercise with Israel under an annual military cooperation program.
Israeli helicopters, fighter jets and warships will also attend the exercise that will continue until May 29.
Energy companies including ExxonMobil, Total and Eni are licensed by the Greek Cypriot Administration to conduct a hydrocarbons search off Cyprus. Gas has been discovered at three locations.
Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration's unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying Turkish Cypriots also have rights to the resources in the area. The unilaterally declared exclusive economic zone of the Greek Cypriot Administration violates part of Turkey's shelf, particularly in Blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7.
Saying unilateral exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the island's natural resources, Turkey has announced its intention to start drilling off Cyprus until September 3.
In 1974, following a coup aiming at Cyprus' annexation by Greece, Ankara intervened as a guarantor power. The decades since have seen several attempts to resolve the dispute, all ending in failure. The latest one, held with the participation of the guarantor countries -- Turkey, Greece, and the U.K. -- ended in 2017 in Switzerland.
The TRNC, established in the northern third of the island in 1983, is only recognized by Turkey and faces a longstanding embargo in commerce, transportation and culture. Meanwhile, the Greek Cypriot Administration enjoys recognition by the international community as the Republic of Cyprus established in 1960, which is a member of the EU.
The European Union on Monday urged Turkey to show restraint and respect the sovereign rights of the RoC, an EU member state since 2004 despite assurances to Ankara that such a move would not take place before a solution is reached on the island, over the energy dispute.
The U.S., Israel and Egypt have also come out against Turkey's incursion into the island's exclusive economic zone. Turkey says it is drilling inside its continental shelf and complying with international law.