Via The Telegraph – Greek soldiers fired warning shots at a Turkish helicopter after it approached a tiny Greek island in the eastern Aegean, in a dangerous escalation of tension between the regional rivals.
The island of Ro, which lies just a few miles off the Turkish coast, became the latest flashpoint between the neighbours after months of growing friction and nationalist rhetoric.
The incident, in which Greek soldiers reportedly fired tracer rounds towards the Turkish helicopter, happened late on Monday night.
After the shots were fired, the helicopter, which had buzzed the island at a low altitude, left the area.
“The order to fire the warning shots to force the helicopter to move off came in the context of stepped up surveillance and reaction measures adopted given the increase in tensions with Turkey,” a Greek military source told AFP.
The source said the helicopter, apparently operated by the Turkish coastguard, flew along the outer limit of the air control identification zone between the two countries, both members of Nato.
The helicopter was flying with its navigation lights switched off in a deliberately provocative act, the Greek government said on Tuesday.
Ro lies just to the west of the larger island of Kastellorizo, which is popular with British tourists and lies just across the water from the Turkish coastal town of Kas.
Tension has been growing between Athens and Ankara for months.
The Greek Supreme Court has blocked the extradition of the Turkish soldiers, arguing that they would not have a fair trial in their home country amid an ongoing purge of suspected opponents of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president.
Tensions escalated further last month when two Greek soldiers were imprisoned by the Turks after straying over the border.
Turkey has accused the soldiers of being spies, while Greece says they merely got lost in fog and wandered over the frontier by mistake.
On Saturday, Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, demanded the release of the soldiers, saying they should not be “pawns to power games and blackmail.”
The prime minister added: “In the past, we returned Turkish soldiers who crossed a few metres into Greece whilst on patrol. I expect the Turkish president to do the same.”
Last week, Greece’s defence minister described Turkey as an “enemy that continues to provoke us”.
Panos Kammenos said he had ordered the deployment of 7,000 additional military personnel to islands in the eastern Aegean Sea and the land border in northeastern Greece.
“If they have the guts, let them dare to challenge one inch of our territory,” Mr Kammenos said while attending a military exercise on the island of Ikaria. “The Greeks, united, will crush them.
“What is needed is the vigilance of the entire Greek people in facing an opponent, an enemy that continues to provoke us,” said Mr Kammenos, who leads the small Right-wing Independent Greeks party, a junior partner in the government.
Greece and Turkey are also at loggerheads over oil and gas drilling off the coast of Cyprus, which is divided between Turk Cypriots and Greek Cypriots.
In February, Greek authorities said a Turkish coast guard vessel rammed a Greek coast guard boat off a pair of uninhabited islets in the Aegean over which the two regional rivals nearly went to war in 1996. There were no injuries.