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Cyprus braces for 100,000 potential evacuees

Palestinian woman Raghda Abu Marasa, who fled to the southern part of the enclave after Israel's call for more than one million civilians in northern Gaza to move south, sits in a car with her children and family members as they return to their home in Gaza City

Cyprus is preparing for a scenario in which more than 100,000 people may need to be evacuated from Lebanon, Israel, and the broader region if the violence in the Middle East escalates, diplomatic sources said on Friday.

High-level contacts told the Cyprus Mail the government is “intensively preparing for all scenarios” and has received information through diplomatic channels that over 100,000 EU and third-country nationals may seek to leave their homes should the war between Israel and Gaza become even more violent or spread to neighbouring countries.

The evacuated individuals would be using Cyprus as a transit station and would not be staying on the island for long, the sources specified.

Urging for a de-escalation, Nicosia is also trying to establish a humanitarian corridor between Cyprus and Gaza. The corridor would be an additional alternative route other than the one through Egypt.

The idea would need broad support and involvement from international organisations such as the UN, the sources specified. Talks over the matter are at the initial stages, though the matter hinges on whether Israel agrees.

The reaction thus far is that it is being discussed, the Cyprus Mail has learned.

Both the Zenon coordination centre in Larnaca and the Andreas Papandreou base in Paphos have teams from 19 countries cooperating with Cypriot authorities. They are also preparing for a “worst case scenario” namely having a major influx of citizens arriving to the country.

So far, as part of the Estia plan, 1,188 people have come to Cyprus from Israel, after the Hamas attack on October 7. They are of 33 nationalities who arrived in one of the 15 flights or two ships that were helping citizens flee the country.

Around 90 per cent of them have left Cyprus while the remaining amount concerns individuals who are staying on the island out of their own expenses. They include EU citizens with the right to stay, people who have relatives on the island or their own homes in Cyprus.

In the past few days, the number of arrivals from Israel has been dwindling, as the majority who sought to leave Israel have already done so.

Meanwhile, Cyprus is increasingly concerned and fears any potential escalation of violence, the diplomatic sources said. As such, Nicosia is sending messages ‘to all involved parties’ for the need to de-escalate and the need to have a continuous flow of humanitarian help to Gaza.

It is important to have a roadmap that gradually leads to a dialogue that can lead to a two-state solution on the basis of the UN security council decision, the sources added.

To this end, Nicosia is actively trying to create a humanitarian corridor between Cyprus and Gaza. Efforts to accomplish this are being undertaken in a “coordinated manner in cooperation with friendly nation states to Cyprus.”

The matter will also be brought up with the Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos’ upcoming trip to Jordan on Sunday. Kombos had a call with his Jordanian counterpart on Thursday evening where they discussed the unfolding situation.

Cyprus’ efforts are focusing on the importance of maintaining and strengthening “to a significant degree” the humanitarian help towards Gaza and that Cyprus can have a role in the matter.

This is due to the island’s geographical proximity and the means it has to do so.

What matters the most for Nicosia is ensuring the help gets to where it needs to go, the source stressed. Several matters still need to be clarified such as how the help will be distributed to people.

Asked to comment on potential migration flows, the sources specified those seeking to leave the war via boat will not be doing so by the evacuation plan. Many these refugees are concentrated in Lebanon, the sources noted.

Earlier this week, Cyprus’ interior minister warned developments in Israel and Gaza could impact Lebanon’s ability to monitor its shores, raising the risk for an increased influx of migrants trying to come to Cyprus.

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