Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras participates on March 25, 2019 during a visit to Agathonisi Island, Greece, on a student parade on the Independence Day of Greece. Andrea Bonetti / Press Office of the Greek Prime Minister / Handout via REUTERS
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Turkish jets had flown to a Greek island on Monday to mark the anniversary of the 1821 uprising against Ottoman rule, but Turkey said there was no attempt to escape intercept.
"They forced the helicopter I just had to maneuver deeply until Greek jets intercept the forces that violate our national airspace," Tsipras said in a speech on Agathonisi Island, a few miles off the Turkish Mediterranean coast.
"The message I want to send you is that such stupid acts have no meaning, they do not spend their gas on anything. We will always be there to defend our national integrity. "
A Greek military officer told Reuters that Greek F-16 fighters intercepted the Turkish jets about four miles away from Tsipras' helicopters.
A Turkish security source said the Turkish jets would perform routine operations. "During today's work of the Greek Prime Minister, Turkish fighter planes have not intercepted," the source said.
Although the NATO allies, Turkey and Greece, had long disagreed, there were problems between ethnically divided Cyprus, airspace and overflight rights. Relations have worsened since Greece blocked the extradition of eight Turkish soldiers accused of involvement in a failed 2016 military coup.
Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas in Athens and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; Cut by Mark Heinrich and Hugh Lawson