By Jean Christou
CYPRUS IS to donate ammunition to the Lebanese army to help the neighbouring country hold off Islamic State (IS) militants, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said on Monday.
On Sunday Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah clashed with Sunni Islamist insurgents trying to capture land in a mountainous area near the border with Syria. At least 10 Hezbollah fighters were killed and a number of the insurgents.
Kasoulides said the world should be concerned about the developments and other countries, especially EU member states, should do what they could to aid Beirut.
Cyprus, he said, had decided to donate ammunition that could match specific types of weapons available to the Lebanese army.
He said the move was a necessary one due to the island’s geographical position. “The Republic of Cyprus is at the forefront… and is the EU’s outpost in this turbulent region,” he said. So far Cyprus has not become involved militarily in the war against IS other than supporting the use of the British bases, which has been carrying out air strikes on IS positions in Iraq from Akrotiri for the past week.
On Sunday night two Tornados, in support of Iraqi security forces, successfully used Paveway IV precision-guided bombs to attack IS fighters who were holed up in a building near Ramadi, firing on Iraqi soldiers, the British ministry of defence said. It was the fifth air strike against targets in Iraq in almost a week. Cyprus will also allow France the use of the Andreas Papandreou air base in Paphos for support missions to Iraq, but not for military purposes.
“We believe it is our duty to assist the international community in the fight against the Islamic State and it is for this reason we support the efforts and actions taken by SBA Akrotiri and offer facilities to France, as we have been asked to support the fight against terrorism,” said Kasoulides
He said Cyprus was concerned about developments in Lebanon, “a friendly country”, adding that it could ultimately lead jihadists to the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean creating an immediate danger to the island’s safety.
“It may seem remote at the moment… this risk,” he said. “Governments, however, do not operate on the basis of probabilities. They operate on the possibilities, and the possibility is there.”
Lebanon, he said was a country with a lot of inherent difficulties and Cyprus, as the closest EU state, would like to serve as an example to other members of the bloc by donating the ammunition.
“It is as an example which should be followed by other countries according to their own capabilities,” he said.
Asked whether the government had any information about jihadists having entered the north of the island, he said there was no evidence this had occurred. Cyprus was in close contact with other countries monitoring the region, he said.
Kasoulides took the opportunity to slam Turkey for providing support to the rebels. Last week Turkey’s parliament gave the government powers to order incursions against IS fighters who had surrounded the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani right on the Syrian-Turkish border, and to allow US-led forces to launch similar operations from Turkish territory. Syria’s envoy to the United Nations in Geneva said Turkey wanted to intervene in his country because it was funding the Islamist militants, a claim Turkey denies.
Kasoulides said Turkey, which the international community sees as important for stability in the region, was the same country that had undermined Egypt’s efforts to achieve a ceasefire agreement in Gaza, and he called on the international community to call a spade a spade.
“I wish and hope that the international community will not fall into the trap of Turkey’s requirements and conditions that it has laid down because these terms will not help the battle against ISIS. By contrast, they only serve the interests and aspirations of Turkey against the Kurdish community in Syria,” he said.
“We [Cyprus] have no hesitation and no restraint in voicing our position as loudly as we can even if others choose to keep quiet. We observe Turkey`s actions and if nobody else chooses to shout against these actions, we will,” he said
Kurds protest outside US embassy
Tensions rose outside the US embassy in Nicosia yesterday between a group of Kurdish protesters and police. The protesters were demanding more action by the US against the Islamic State in the region of Kobani, a town on the Syrian-Turkish border where jihadists have gained a foothold.
At some point a few of the protesters broke through the cordon cutting off the entrance to the embassy but police managed to restore order and the demonstration continued peacefully but noisily. Yesterday IS militants raised their flag on a building on the eastern outskirts of Kobani after an assault of almost three weeks, but the town’s Kurdish defenders said they had not reached the city centre. The Nicosia protesters said the US had not done enough to push them back.