Greece accused Turkey today of deliberately holding up a government aircraft carrying its foreign minister home from Iraq, leaving it circling for 20 minutes before granting it permission to cross Turkish airspace.

According to Greek authorities the VIP flight had been given permission to pass through Turkish airspace but later the permission was revoked leading to a diplomatic incident amidst heightened Greek-Turkish tensions and the hostile actions of the Turkish military toward Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean.

Turkey denied the accusation, saying the aircraft had taken off from Iraq without a flight plan but had been allowed to pass once one was procured.

Greek authorities dismissed the claim as false.

Tensions between the two NATO allies, locked in a dispute over maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, have been simmering amid claims and counter-claims to marine areas thought to be rich in natural gas.

“It is one more provocation in Turkey’s series of provocations,” Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters. “I hope the incident is not repeated in the future.”

He said Greece’s foreign ministry had complained to the Turkish authorities.

Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy dismissed the suggestion that the plane carrying Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias had been deliberately held up as a provocation to Athens.

“The plane in question took off from Iraq without presenting a flight plan. When the plane entered our air space, a flight plan was urgently requested from Iraqi authorities, and the flight was safely carried out after the plan was received,” he said.

He said Turkey had granted permission to a Greek request for the minister’s plane to pass over its air space en route to Iraq on October 14.

After that plane malfunctioned in Iraq, Greece sent a second aircraft which was also granted permission to fly through Turkish air space, “with the same flight permission number, without any delay”, Aksoy said.

Meanwhile, France and Germany today accused Turkey of continuing to provoke the European Union with its actions in the eastern Mediterranean, and gave it a week to clarify its positions.