Turkey sent F-16 fighters jets over Imia after Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and military officials dropped wreaths over the disputed islet that nearly brought the countries to war in 1996.
Ankara reacted furiously to the decision by the new defense chief, who is the head of the far right-wing nationalist Independent Greeks who are the coalition partner in the government led by Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras.
Kammenos is a hardliner in dealings with Turkey and other foreign policy matters, including voer the stance Greece should take in talks with its northern neighbor FYROM over the name for that country.
The Turkish jets approached the uninhabited rocky formations but didn’t enter Greek air space as Greek fighter jets circled over the area as the wreaths were dropped in memory of three Hellenic Navy officers who died when their helicopter crashed during a reconnaissance mission there.
A statement by Greece’s Defense Ministry saying that the two Turkish jets were intercepted by the Greek aircraft was later contradicted by the Hellenic Air Force and the National Defense General Staff.
“The reason the defense minister went there was to show his patriotism and to honor those who died there,” said Maria Chrysoveloni, spokeswoman for SYRIZA’s nationalist coalition partner Independent Greeks.
During a memorial service earlier in the day, Kammenos said that “the Imia [incident] was not an unfortunate event,” vowing that investigations into the incident will continue. He did not clarify his comment.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged caution from Tsipras, who is to fly to Cyprus on Feb. 2 for his first visit abroad since winning the Jan. 25 elections. Turkey still unlawfully occupies the northern third of the island after a 1974 invasion.