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Cyprus

‘We will not be used as a launching pad for Syria attack’

Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides

By Stefanos Evripidou

CYPRUS cannot be used as a launching pad for attacks on Syria while at the same time offering its services as a shelter of stability and security for fleeing foreign nationals, said Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides yesterday.

Speaking at a press briefing, Kasoulides said he has been given assurances that Cyprus will not be used as a launching pad for possible attacks against the Syrian government in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians near Damascus.

At the same time, he said: “Cyprus as a country of stability, peace and security is ready to undertake the responsibility of acting as a shelter in the evacuation of foreign nationals of friendly countries from the Middle East region if needed.

“This is the capacity that we want to safeguard and we have received assurances that (Cyprus’) territory will not be used as a launching pad,” he said, adding: “We cannot be a safe haven of peace and security on the one hand and a launching pad on the other.”

Kasoulides ruled out Cyprus also providing shelter to Syrian refugees, noting that the “current economic situation in Cyprus is not conducive to officially receiving Syrian refugees”.

Regarding the escalating tension in Syria, Kasoulides said the Cyprus government is gravely concerned about the use of chemical weapons against civilians, “especially against the children of the friendly people of Syria and the government’s reaction is even greater when this is happening in such close proximity to our country”.

“The loss of 1,429 lives of which 426 were children in the last attack in Damascus constitutes a crime against humanity and is unreservedly condemned,” he said, adding, “such horrendous action cannot be allowed to pass without consequences”.

The Cypriot FM said there was no doubt about the use of chemical weapons.

While the UN investigative committee is not mandated to apportion responsibility for the alleged chemical attack, the Syrian regime is in the spotlight because it produces, stores and is in a position to use a combination of such weapons contrary to international, national and humanitarian laws, said Kasoulides.

If the Syrian regime had promptly destroyed its chemical weapons in the presence of international observers, it would not have been necessary now to show that it is not responsible for their latest mass use, he added.

Reports suggest American and possibly French forces will launch surgical attacks on Syrian regime targets within the next four days, ahead of the G20 Summit starting on Thursday in St Petersburg. “Whatever happens, the Geneva II procedure must be safeguarded through finding a political solution to the general problem,” Kasoulides added, referring to the proposal for a UN-backed peace conference aimed at resolving the Syrian crisis, which has been subject to continuous postponements.

Although UK forces will not be involved in any missile strikes against the Syrian regime, the Guardian reported that Britain will keep its six RAF Typhoon jets in Akrotiri as a defensive measure.

“Cyprus has huge strategic value for the UK because it is the home of the Joint Service Signals Unit– one of the world’s largest surveillance and listening posts,” said the Guardian.

 

 

‘Egypt visit of ‘vital importance’

AS ARAB foreign ministers gather in Cairo to discuss the looming US-led attack on Syria, Kasoulides leaves this afternoon for contacts in the Egyptian capital.

Kasoulides said after a “very careful” assessment of the pros and cons, he decided to go ahead with a visit to Cairo where he will make first contact between the new Cypriot government and the interim government of Egypt.

The minister plans to convey a message from President Nicos Anastasiades to Egypt’s interim President and will attempt to restore contacts between High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton and the Egyptian authorities.

“My effort will be to restore contacts between Mrs Ashton and the Egyptian authorities in order for her to contribute to the efforts for democratisation, within the framework of the road map announced by the Egyptian government,” he said.

Kasoulides described the visit as being of “vital importance” to Cyprus’ interests.

Egypt is a key factor in Cyprus’ regional policy, he said, noting that there are a number of issues, especially in the field of energy, which require a clear understanding between the two countries.

“We attach great importance to this friendly neighbouring country,” he said.

Asked if he planned to meet with the detained Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected President of Egypt who was recently ousted by the military following huge public rallies opposing his presidency, Kasoulides said he had no intentions to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs.

“We do not agree that a coup took place in Egypt,” he said, arguing that the latest bloodshed in the country between pro-Morsi supporters and the military was another phase of the Egyptian revolution following decades living under a dictatorship.

Kasoulides plans to hold meetings with the Egyptian government, Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria, the Grand Imam of Al–Azhar Mosque, Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Coptic Patriarch, and with his “personal friend”, Egyptian politician and diplomat Amr Moussa.

He returns on Tuesday.

 

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