Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Wednesday Israeli and Cypriot energy exploration in the Mediterranean was illegal, agreement should first be reached with all relevant parties, and resources should be equally shared.

Turkey and Cyprus are in dispute over the energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean and Texas-based Noble Energy started drilling in September a Cypriot offshore block abutting another block controlled by Israel.

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The Foreign Ministry shot back at the Turkish accusation, telling The Jerusalem Post that, "Israel strictly abides by international law."

"If Turkey wants to lay claim to Israeli resources then it should do so through the UN and not through the media," the ministry spokesperson said.

Turkey is the only government to recognize the breakaway northern Cyprus, run by a Turkish Cypriot administration, as a separate state, though it backs reunification talks.

In September, Turkey began exploring for gas in an offshore zone where Cyprus had started drilling the previous week.

Israel is also drilling nearby, and the issue has emerged as a further bone of contention between Turkey and the Jewish state. Long Israel's rare Middle East ally, Ankara has downgraded ties over Israel's refusal to apologize for a deadly raid last year on a Turkish aid flotilla.

The question of who has the right to tap deposits in a region holding the world's biggest natural gas find of the past decade has added urgency to efforts to settle the conflict over Cyprus, divided since 1974 into Greek and Turkish enclaves.

Israel has gradually boosted naval patrols around its east Mediterranean natural gas fields for fear of guerrilla attacks and as the maritime rivalry with Turkey deepens, an Israeli official said on Monday.

Missile boats have stepped up missions around the Tamar and Leviathan gas platforms over the past year, as well as coordination with private security firms contracted by the US-Israeli exploration consortium, the official said.

"We have replicated the arrangements already in place at Yam Tethys," the official said, referring to another Israeli gas field 40 km (25 miles) off southern Ashkelon port, near the waters of the Palestinian territory Gaza.

Tamar and Leviathan, in which Israel sees a potential pipeline to energy independence, are around twice and three times as far out to sea, respectively. That challenges Israel's small navy, which is more accustomed to close coastal patrols.

The Israeli military's newspaper Bamahane said the navy was undergoing expansion including the appointment of a commodore to handle the induction of two more German-made submarines and address "the new need to protect the drilling rigs."

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