Cyprus to host US rapid response unit for any Mideast evacuations

Cyprus has been used by the United States in the past as a staging point for the evacuation of Americans from Middle East troublespots, such as war-torn Lebanon in 2006. (AFP)
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Updated 08 January 2020

Cyprus to host US rapid response unit for any Mideast evacuations

  • The request came after Iran fired a volley of missiles at Iraqi bases housing US and other foreign troops
  • Last month Washington lifted a 1987 arms embargo on Cyprus as a sign of warmer relations

NICOSIA: Cyprus said Wednesday it had accepted a US request to station a rapid response team on the island in case American diplomatic personnel or civilians need to be evacuated amid rising US-Iranian tensions.
Cyprus “gave its consent for the temporary stationing in Cyprus of a rapid response unit whose task will be to evacuate US diplomatic missions to the region, as well as US citizens, if necessary,” said government spokesman Kyriacos Koushos.
He stressed that the request was accepted “for exclusively humanitarian operations.”
Koushos said the request was made through the US embassy in Nicosia.
“It has been a longstanding practice for the Republic of Cyprus to provide facilities for humanitarian operations on the basis of requests from third countries.
“We will continue to do so as a factor of stability and security in the region... thus taking advantage of our geographical location as well as our excellent relations with all the states of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East,” he added.
The request came after Iran fired a volley of missiles on Wednesday at Iraqi bases housing US and other foreign troops, the Islamic republic’s first action in its promised revenge for the US killing of a top Iranian general in Iraq last week.
Ties between Washington and the island’s internationally recognized government have grown of late — last month Washington lifted a 1987 arms embargo on Cyprus as a sign of warmer relations.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had been due to visit Cyprus on Tuesday but postponed an Asian tour due to the tensions with Iran.
A former British colony, Cyprus hosts two sovereign British military bases.
The island has been divided since 1974 when Turkey occuupied its northern third in response to a Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the military junta then ruling in Athens seeking union with Greece.
Turkey has since maintained up to 35,000 troops in the breakaway north.
The United States imposed an embargo on the full island in 1987 with an aim to prevent an arms race and encourage a peaceful settlement between the Greek majority and Turkish minority.
Critics say the step has been counterproductive by forcing Cyprus to seek other partners while Turkey, a NATO member, has stationed forces in northern Cyprus since the invasion.
US officials have been concerned that the ban has brought EU member Cyprus closer to Russia, with the island in 2015 signing off on an access deal to its ports.
Under the new act, the United States will still restrict certain sensitive technologies to Cyprus unless the US certifies that the island is denying Russia military vessels port access for refueling and servicing.
In 2006, Cyprus was used as a ‘safe haven’ to evacuate nearly 60,000 civilians from Lebanon in the largest operation of its kind since World War II.


Huge blast at Iran-Turkey pipeline halts gas supply

A general view of oil tanks at Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, which is run by state-owned Petroleum Pipeline Corporation (BOTAS), near Adana, Turkey, February 19, 2014. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 min 30 sec ago

Huge blast at Iran-Turkey pipeline halts gas supply

  • Kurdish militants from the PKK have occasionally attacked oil and gas pipelines coming from Iraq and Iran

ANKARA: A powerful explosion at a natural gas pipeline that brings gas from Iran to Turkey has halted supply to the country.
Flames caused by the explosion on Tuesday at the eastern border city of Agri were visible from nearby villages.
Iranian officials believe that the explosion near the Gurbulak border gate with Iran was caused by a terrorist attack. Turkish security forces are investigating the cause of the incident.
“The pipeline has exploded several times in the past. It is also likely that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has carried out the blast,” Mehdi Jamshidi-Dana, director of National Iranian Gas Co., told Iran’s state news agency IRNA. Turkish border guards left the area as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus pandemic. Jamshidi-Dana implied that the terrorists took advantage of this security vacuum.
Following the blast, a member of the outlawed PKK was killed in an operation carried out by Turkish border units while he was trying to cross into Turkey through Iran.
In early March, Turkish security forces launched another operation to track attackers near the Iranian border after one Turkish customs agent was murdered and several others were wounded by a rocket attack that hit an armored bus carrying customs staff.
Kurdish militants from the PKK have occasionally attacked oil and gas pipelines coming from Iraq and Iran.
The same line was closed over a PKK attack in July 2015, while a subsequent attack in April 2018 was prevented by Turkish security forces.
Turkey is among the few customers of Iranian gas, although Iran’s total natural gas export to Turkey is dropping each year. Turkey imported 7.7 billion cubic meters of gas from Iran in 2019, equivalent to 17 percent of its total gas imports.
The pipeline’s repair works are expected to take about four days before gas exports can resume.
Earlier this month, Turkish-Iranian land and air borders were sealed over the coronavirus outbreak.