NICOSIA - Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades on Wednesday urged Turkey to lift its blockade of offshore gas exploration that would benefit both the Greek and Turkish Cypriots once the island is reunited.
"The rhetoric by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots is unjustified and unfounded, and it does not serve the best interests of the Cypriot people... The planning of the Republic of Cyprus in the field of energy will proceed," Anastasiades said in a statement.
"I publicly call on Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community to immediately respond to my call to return to the negotiating table, provided this is preceded by the termination of the violation of the sovereign rights" of Cyprus in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), he said.
Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader, said the island's untapped energy riches belonged to the state and would be shared with the Turkish Cypriots once the island was reunified.
"Our goal is to fully explore Cyprus's hydrocarbon potential, in the best terms possible, so as to maximise the benefits for all the people of Cyprus," he said.
Cyprus is embroiled in a standoff with Turkish warships blocking an Italian drillship from exploring for gas in the divided island's politically sensitive waters.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned foreign energy companies not to "overstep the mark" in the Mediterranean after Turkey's warships blocked the Italian vessel.
The standoff over exploiting energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean risks further complicates stalled efforts to reunify Cyprus following the collapse of UN-brokered peace talks last year.
Italy's energy giant ENI said its ship had been ordered to stop by Turkish ships earlier this month over "military activities in the destination area" as it was on course to start exploring in block 3 of Cyprus's EEZ.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the northern third of the island in response to a Greek military junta-sponsored coup.
While the Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus is internationally recognised, the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Ankara.
Turkey and Cyprus have long argued over the eastern Mediterranean, and Ankara has been stringent in defending the claims of Turkish Cypriots for a share of energy resources.
Cyprus expects more exploratory drills, with US giant ExxonMobil also planning two drills in the second half of 2018.