Cyprus Mail

BBC: Why Cyprus backs Cameron on UK air strikes (Update 2: adds UK defence secretary)

A Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado GR4 aircraft, flown in from Britain, stands on the tarmac at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus

If British Prime Minister David Cameron is successful in securing parliamentary support for airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria within the coming weeks, it will indirectly involve Cyprus in the conflict, the BBC has reported.

It said that while most Cypriots regard Britain’s two sovereign military bases as an anachronism, Cyprus views IS as a threat and backs Cameron’s plans for air strikes from RAF Akrotiri which is only some 112km west of Syria. Air strikes are already being launched from Akrotiri against IS in Iraq using Tornados.

“We’re in the same strategic boat,” Euripides Evriviades, Cyprus’s high commissioner in London told the BBC.

Last week, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, made clear Cyprus’s support, saying IS’s “abominable” attacks in Paris had only strengthened Cyprus’ “determination” to help eliminate the “barbarous” organisation.

“Co-operating with its Western allies against IS allows Cyprus to showcase its geo-strategic value as a safe haven and reliable partner on the EU’s south-eastern frontier,” the BBC said.

“It’s all about location, location, location,” said Klearchos Kyriakides, a lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire’s Cyprus campus.

“Cyprus’s contribution to security and stability in the region, by virtue also of its EU membership, goes far beyond the geographical confines of the country,” added Evriviades.

The BBC said there had been negligible public opposition to the government’s support for British military action and little debate about a possible Islamist backlash.

Under the 1960 arrangements, Britain does not appear to require Cypriot consent on how its bases are used. But “we work on a no-surprise basis and enjoy excellent co-operation with the Republic of Cyprus”, a British bases spokesman told the BBC.

When British bombers began targeting IS in Iraq from RAF Akrotiri last autumn, it was the first time Cyprus had been used as a strike base since the 1956 Suez crisis, when the island was still a British colony, the article added.

But Britain’s government has yet to drum up the support it needs to win parliamentary approval defence minister Michael Fallon said on Sunday.

Cameron has said it is time to join the air but several of his own Conservative Party and some lawmakers in the opposition Labour Party are wary of entering into another war in the Middle East after Western intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya failed to bring stability to the region.

Fallon said the government was holding talks with Labour lawmakers and, while it would like a vote to take place this week, it was still building the case for extending air strikes beyond Iraq, where it already supports U.S.-led attacks.

“We’d like to have a vote for military action but we’ve got to keep building the case,” Fallon told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

Asked whether the government had got the votes needed to get parliamentary approval for the air strikes, Fallon said: “Not yet, we are working at it and we need to keep working at it because there are lots of questions about this.”

UK Media reported the vote could be held on Wednesday, but Cameron says he will not ask parliament until he can count on its approval, to avoid a repeat of the damaging defeat in 2013 over strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Fallon said opinion “was beginning to shift” over the action. Some members of parliament who were reluctant to launch further military action in the Middle East now feel it is needed to protect Britain from attacks like the ones staged in Paris.

Others, however, have questions they feel Cameron has not answered and have yet to change their minds.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the same programme: “I don’t think it (air strikes on Syria) will solve the problem.”

He said he feared there would be civilian casualties despite the use of precision bombing and that a political settlement was the only way to bring peace to Syria, which has been locked in a civil war for more than four and a half years.

Corbyn, a veteran anti-war campaigner, is facing deep divisions in his Labour Party over the vote.

He said he had not decided yet whether to use a “party whip” to maintain parliamentary discipline or to allow his party members to vote according to their consciences on the action.

If he does not force opposition members to vote with him against the action, the government could get enough votes. If not, Fallon said it would be “hugely damaging” to Britain’s reputation if the government failed to win parliamentary approval.

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