Turkey's prime minister has lashed out at Cyprus and Israel for what he described as their "madness for an oil search" in the Mediterranean, the state media reported Wednesday.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that a Turkish research ship will be "speedily" sent to the area after Cyprus began a similar search near sizable gas finds inside Israeli waters earlier this week, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.
He also said the country has sent warships to the area, as it tries to force Cyprus to halt its exploration.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north. Only Turkey recognizes the north and maintains 35,000 troops there.
Erdogan says Cyprus' drilling, carried out by the U.S. firm Noble Energy Inc., undermines the rights of Turkish Cypriots and is aimed at "sabotaging" efforts to reunify the island. Cyprus has licensed Noble Energy to search for oil and gas near Israel's recently discovered offshore gas fields that contains more than 450 billion cubic meters (15.9 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas.
Deposits are also believed to lie inside Cypriot waters near the Israeli finds, which Cyprus is now exploring.
Turkey, however, has said it does not recognize an agreement reached between Israel and Cyprus in 2010 that marked out the exclusive economic zone between the two countries. Turkey has also called on Egypt and Lebanon to scrap similar agreements they have with Cyprus that delineated Mediterranean undersea borders to facilitate the search for mineral deposits.
"What is happening in Cyprus is Israel's and Cyprus' engagement in madness for oil search," the Anatolia agency quoted Erdogan as saying. "It is actually nothing but sabotaging the negotiation process between the northern Cyprus and the southern Cyprus."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in New York on Monday that the island's recognized government had a right to decide how it exploits its resources, according to officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.
Israel is also seeking potential energy deals with Turkey's archrival Greece involving newly discovered Israeli offshore natural gas deposits that include fields near Gaza.
Turkey's relations with Israel, once a close military ally, recently soured over Israel's refusal to apologize for last year's deadly raid by Israeli commandos on a flotilla attempting to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish activists were killed in international waters.
Erdogan threatened last week that Turkish warships would ensure the freedom of navigation in the eastern Mediterranean and protect any other Gaza-bound aid ships in the future.