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19 Jul 2024 21:19
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  •   Home > News > International

    How did Cyprus get dragged into real danger of a war with Hezbollah?

    The island nation of Cyprus has been drawn into simmering tensions between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah after it was warned not to provide assistance to the Israeli military.


    The island nation of Cyprus has been drawn into simmering tensions between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah after it was warned not to provide assistance to the Israeli military. 

    The EU member state closest to the Middle East, Cyprus was caught off guard by comments from Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Wednesday that the island could be a target if it allowed Israel to use its military facilities in the event of an attack on Lebanon.

    Why is Hezbollah threatening Cyprus?

    Hezbollah was established following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and has strong ties to Hamas, the militant and political group in control of Gaza

    It is a major force in the Lebanese parliament, which has been wracked with political instability for years and is currently led by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

    Lebanon's southern border with Israel has been a skirmish ground for months with Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces firing rockets at each other in waves of aggression. 

    The Hezbollah leader's threats focused on Cyprus' assistance to Israel, such as allowing the Israeli military to conduct exercises in its airspace and carrying out joint military drills. 

    Nasrallah singled out the possibility of a Cypriot base being used as a launch pad for an invasion of Lebanon, as part of an escalation into all-out war. 

    Cyprus is 264 kilometres from the Lebanese coast, and since 1974 has been divided into a Turkish-occupied north and UN-recognised Cypriot south. 

    "The Cypriot government must be warned that opening Cypriot airports and bases for the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon means that the Cypriot government has become part of the war and the resistance [Hezbollah] will deal with it as part of the war," Nasrallah said.

    How has Cyprus reacted? 

    Cyprus has usually stayed out of active tensions in the Middle East and offered sanctuary to tens of thousands of Lebanese fleeing civil war in the 1970s and 80s.

    It has lobbied its EU partners to offer Lebanon financial assistance, and recently set up a maritime corridor to dispatch humanitarian aid to Gaza. 

    "Cyprus is a credible enabler of stability, and an acknowledged regional hub for humanitarian operations, based on excellent relations with all the countries in the region," said government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis.

    But it also comes against the backdrop of improved Cyprus ties with Israel, as the invasion of Gaza continues into its ninth month with at least 37,000 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, according to Gazan health authorities. 

    Some Cypriots in the divided capital Nicosia said the Hezbollah threats concerned them, but others were unfazed. 

    "We have nothing to do with this war," Stella Patatini, 62, said. "On the contrary, we are helping peace in the region and assistance to the Palestinians so I feel safe in Cyprus."

    Could tensions rise further? 

    Cypriot leaders attempted to downplay the threats and encourage stability in the region, as did the Lebanese government.

    "The Republic of Cyprus is in no way involved in war conflict," Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said, describing Nasrallah's comments as "not pleasant".

    The EU also weighed in, with a spokesperson saying any threats against a member state were threats against the EU.

    Beirut appeared to try to limit fallout from Nasrallah's comments, with the caretaker prime minister and foreign minister speaking to their Cypriot counterparts to reassure them of Lebanon's commitment to a peaceful relationship.

    ABC/Reuters


    ABC




    © 2024 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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