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.


Libya’s Tripoli government seizes last LNA stronghold near capital

Updated 05 June 2020

Libya’s Tripoli government seizes last LNA stronghold near capital

  • Military sources in Haftar’s Libyan National Army said their forces had withdrawn from the town of Tarhouna
  • The advance extends the control of the Government of National Accord

TRIPOLI: Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government captured the last major stronghold of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar near Tripoli on Friday, capping the sudden collapse of his 14-month offensive on the capital.
Military sources in Haftar’s Libyan National Army, LNA, said their forces had withdrawn from the town of Tarhouna. They headed toward Sirte, far along the coast, and the air base of Al-Jufra in central Libya. The LNA made no immediate official comment.
The advance extends the control of the Government of National Accord, GNA, and allied forces across most of northwest Libya, reversing many of Haftar’s gains from last year when he raced toward Tripoli.
The United Nations has started holding talks with both sides for a cease-fire deal in recent days, though previous truces have not stuck. The GNA gains could entrench the de facto partition of Libya into zones controlled by rival eastern and western governments whose foreign backers compete for regional sway.
Turkish military support for the GNA, with drone strikes, air defenses and a supply of allied Syrian fighters, was key to its recent successes. Ankara regards Libya as crucial to defending its interests in the eastern Mediterranean.
However, the LNA still retains its foreign support. Washington said last week Moscow had sent warplanes to LNA-held Jufra, though Russia and the LNA denied this.
The United Nations says weapons and fighters have flooded into the country in defiance of an arms embargo, risking a deadlier escalation. Meanwhile, a blockade of oil ports by eastern-based forces has almost entirely cut off energy revenue and both administrations face a looming financial crisis.
Stronghold

Located in the hills southeast of Tripoli, Tarhouna had functioned as a forward base for Haftar’s assault on the capital. Its swift fall suggests Haftar’s foreign supporters were less willing to sustain his bid to take over the entire country once Turkey intervened decisively to stop him.
The GNA operations room said in a statement that its forces had captured Tarhouna after entering from four sides. Abdelsalam Ahmed, a resident, said GNA forces had entered the town.
Videos and photographs posted online appeared to show GNA forces inside Tarhouna cheering and hugging each other and firing into the air.
“The Libyan government forces are rapidly moving in an organized manner and with armed drones. There could be a solution at the table, but Haftar’s forces are losing ground in every sense,” said a Turkish official.