cyprus - Reuters - December 8 2010
Cyprus Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou, December 8, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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Cyprus and Israel have signed an accord demarcating their maritime borders to facilitate offshore gas exploration. Cyprus Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou and Israel's Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau signed the deal in Nicosia, the Mediterranean island's capital on Friday.

Cyprus has similar agreements with Egypt and Lebanon. The country has licensed U.S. firm Noble Energy to explore an area bordering Israeli waters, where huge natural gas reserves have been discovered under the seabed.

Sea traffic between Cyprus and Israel has security implications for Israel. Israel intercepted an Antiguan-flagged ship off the coast of Cyprus in November 2009. Israeli forces confiscated some 200 tons of weapons on board, which were purportedly being smuggled to Hezbollah.

Sovereignty on the Mediterranean Sea has been of increasing concern to Israel since May, when a group of international activists tried to break Israel's blockade of Gaza with a flotilla of ships. Israeli commandos boarded the ships in international waters and killed nine Turkish nationals in the clashes that ensued.

Three months later, Cyprus refused access to its territorial waters to a Lebanese ship, the Mariam, that also intended to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. The Cypriot ambassador to Lebanon told the Associated Press that the boat, the Mariam, will be turned back when it reaches Cyprus.

"We decided that such a ship will not be allowed to enter Cyprus and if such a Gaza-bound ship docks in a Cypriot port the crew and the passengers will be deported to their country of origin," Kyriacos Kouros said.

Kouros said Cyprus has a moral and legal responsibility vis-a-vis those allowed into its waters, and that a blockade-busting ship could endanger lives along with regional peace and stability.

In related news, in August, Lebanon's parliament unanimously ratified a long-awaited energy law, paving the way for exploration of major natural gas reserves that the country claims to have off its Mediterranean coast with Israel.

The law had been discussed for many years, but Israeli plans to drill for gas in the Mediterranean alarmed Lebanon - which fears Israel may be encroaching on its own reserves - and sent Lebanese politicians scrambling to finally approve the law.