NICOSIA - Cyprus said on Monday it would not be involved in any attack on Syria and was a perfectly safe destination for the thousands of British, German and Russian tourists who holiday on the island.
Foreign Minister Ioanis Kasoulides told state radio that Nicosia had received “explicit assurances” that a British RAF base at Akrotiri would not be used in any strike on Damascus.
He also said that Cyprus has been assured that RAF Akrotiri is not a considered a target if the Syrian government retaliated to any attack.
But Kasoulides said that Nicosia had been notified that a “friendly country” not taking part in any planned action against Syria would be carrying out missile tests as part of military exercises in the east Med region up until Saturday.
He did not name the country, although it is thought to be Israel, and a government source told the Cyprus Daily the tests covered three sea areas totalling 12,700 square nautical miles in the east Med.
Defence Minister Fotis Fotiou also moved quickly yesterday to quash international media speculation that the island was a hub of activity as the Americans and their allies moved to a war footing.
“If Cyprus was not a safe destination it would not have been chosen by other countries to evacuate their nationals here,” Fotiou told reporters.
“Cyprus is a centre of stability and peace, there is no need to worry or to panic,” he added.
The minister said Cyprus was preparing to be a safe haven for evacuees fleeing the violence in Syria as countries seek to move their nationals out of the danger zone.
“We have been assured that Cyprus will not be used as a launch pad for any operation or attack (on Syria) neither is it a target, that has been made clear,” said Fotiou.
Authorities are worried that implicating Cyprus in any war discussion about Syria will scare its much needed tourist away as the recession-hit island is banking on tourism revenue to exit its euro crisis.
Britain is Cyprus main tourist market followed by big spending Russians, then the Greeks and Germans.
“This is the heart of the tourist season – September and October are very important months for us – so this is not the time to spread panic,” said Fotiou.
Last month Britain deployed six RAF Typhoon jets to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus as a precautionary measure to protect its assets on the island in case of retaliatory attack from Damascus.
The government has said the British military bases will not play a lead role in any international offensive against Syria.
Nicosia is preparing for the eventuality of receiving thousands of foreign nationals – mainly from Lebanon – fleeing an escalation of violence in Syria.
“A significant number of countries have asked Cyprus to contribute towards that goal and to provide hospitality for their citizens who may need humanitarian assistance…
Cyprus is fully prepared to provide facilities where necessary,” said government spokesman Christos Stylianides.
“It was made very clear that under no circumstances will Cyprus constitute a base of military operations or a target of attacks, these are the explicit assurances the Cyprus has received,” he added.
In summer of 2006 Cyprus became a safe haven for nearly 40,000 foreign nationals who fled Lebanon during an Israeli bombing campaign. It was the biggest evacuation by sea seen since WWII.