CYPRUS and Israel yesterday signed a bilateral agreement defining their sea boundaries, which paves the way for hydrocarbon exploration in the area between the two countries.

The agreement, signed in Nicosia, by Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou and Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, delimits the exclusive economic zone between the two countries. “This agreement reflects the close relationship and ongoing cooperation between Israel and Cyprus,” an Israeli embassy statement said. Kyprianou and Landau did not make any statements and did not take any questions. The agreement will require ratification by the parliaments of the two countries’. Cyprus, which says there are encouraging signs of hydrocarbon reserves in its waters, held a first licensing round in 2007, prompting a fierce reaction from Turkey. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots claim that Cyprus does not have the right to exploit the island’s natural resources before the political problem is resolved. Texas-based Noble Energy has exploration rights for hydrocarbons in a Cypriot offshore field, and in an adjacent one on the Israeli side of the sea boundary. “This agreement essentially provides them (Noble) with a legal safety net, that their rights are legally enshrined,” a diplomatic source told Reuters. Noble was given exploration rights for one of 11 Cypriot plots up for grabs in 2008, about 65 km away from Israel’s Tamar prospect, the world’s biggest gas find in 2009. “In light of the recent discovery of a wealth of natural resources in the Mediterranean Sea, the delimitation of Israel’s borders will play an important role in securing Israel’s vital economic interests, by providing certainty to investors and offering clarity to Israel’s neighbours as to the precise location of Israel’s maritime borders and its right to natural resources at sea,” the embassy statement said. Cyprus has also signed similar bilateral agreements with Egypt. One is also pending ratification by Lebanon. Deep-water exploration licenses in the region became more attractive after the US-Israeli group find at the Tamar field. Noble Energy is 36 per cent owner of Tamar and Delek has a 31.25 per cent stake. Isramco Negev owns 28.75 percent and Dor Gas Exploration owns the remaining 4 per cent. In October, Noble and Delek planned to begin drilling at the nearby Leviathan site, which the group estimates could have deposits twice the size of Tamar, as well as a potential for oil.