13:44 21/09/2011 ANKARA, September 21 (RIA Novosti) - Turkey will step up its naval presence in East Mediterranean to head off Israeli measures against aid convoys to Gaza, Turkey's NTV channel said on Wednesday.
Warships will be tasked with patrolling regional waters and escorting Turkish boats bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, raising the specter of a possible maritime confrontation with the Israeli navy.
"Certainly, our ships will show up more frequently in these waters," he said. "Israel will not be able to move in the eastern Mediterranean as it wishes...It will see our determination in this regard."
Erdogan also made a connection between the naval build-up and tensions over the large energy reserves under the sea in the area. Cyprus recently announced that it will begin drilling on October 1 for oil and gas off the island's southern coast, where massive gas fields were found under the seabed.
The Turkish prime minister added that Israeli forces will be unable to stage another attack like the one that killed nine activists on a Gaza flotilla in May last year, triggering a crisis in Turkish-Israeli relations. Israel has so far refused a Turkish demand to apologize for the death of the activists.
Turkey recently expelled Israel's ambassador and other high-level diplomats from Ankara.