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ATHENS: Greece and France signed a 2.5-billion-euro ($3 billion) warplane deal on Monday as part of a burgeoning arms programme to counter Turkish challenges in the eastern Mediterranean.

France has strongly backed Greece in a standoff with Turkey over natural gas resources and naval influence in the waters off their respective coasts.

The deal will see Greece buying 18 Rafale jets, 12 of them used, made by French firm Dassault to bolster its forces during their regular mid-air skirmishes with Turkish pilots over disputed Aegean airspace.

The deal “sends a clear message in several directions”, said Greek Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos who oversaw a signing ceremony with French counterpart Florence Parly in Athens.

Greek government spokesman Christos Tarantilis said delivery of the first six planes would begin in July.

A group of Greek airforce pilots and technicians are to travel to France for training over the next few days, he added.

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