Israel on Wednesday expressed support and solidarity with Cyprus, as a crisis between Nicosia and Ankara was brewing over natural gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.“Israel follows with serious concern recent steps taken by Turkey in the waters off Cyprus’ northeast coast and reiterates its full support and solidarity with Cyprus in exercising its sovereign rights in its maritime areas and its opposition to any attempt to violate those rights,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a tweet.This came a day after the US State Department urged Turkish authorities to halt energy drilling operations off the Cypriot coast in the Mediterranean. On Monday, Cyprus protested a Turkish ship dropping anchor there.“This provocative step raises tensions in the region. We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint and refrain from actions that increase tensions in the region,” the State Department statement read.Turkey and the internationally recognized government of Cyprus have overlapping claims in that part of the Mediterranean, an area thought to be rich in natural gas.Cyprus, a member of the European Union, has discovered natural gas in areas off the southern coast of the disputed island, though nothing has been extracted. Turkey contests the rights of Cyprus to explore for gas, sending its own drilling ships to stake claims around the island.Refinitiv Eikon shipping data showed a Turkish ship arrived off the east coast of Cyprus earlier this week. Another Turkish vessel has been spotted off the west of Cyprus since early May.The Cypriot presidency on Monday accused Turkey of a “grave violation,” and an EU statement also rebuked the Turkish action.Cyprus was divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup. Several peacemaking efforts have failed and the discovery of offshore resources has complicated the negotiations.Cyprus’ position is that while the northern part of the island is occupied by Turkey, that country has no legal claim to the island’s territorial waters.In the last several years, Israel has forged a strong relationship with Cyprus and Greece, and talks are progressing regarding the building of a natural gas pipeline from Israel and Cyprus’ territorial waters to Italy, through Greece.