Cyprus: an involuntary cog in the Syrian conflict | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 27.08.2013
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Cyprus: an involuntary cog in the Syrian conflict

The prospect of airstrikes on Syria is spewing sparks in all directions. They have even reached the tiny Mediterranean nation of Cyprus. DW takes a look at how "imminent strikes" could affect the island.

As Cypriot foreign minister, Ioannis Kasoulides is faced with an especially difficult dilemma; for though the island is an independent republic and a member of the EU, it is also host to a British Air Force base in Akrotiri on the southwest coast.

Zypern Ioannis Kasoulides

Kasoulides and many Cypriots are weary of any involvement in the conflict

Local media have touched off widespread speculation that British forces are preparing for a strike on the Assad regime, with commentaries on radio and television forecasting that it could be the kind of war that could drag on for months - if not years.

"Yesterday I met with the British ambassador and we are in agreement that there will be no surprises," Kasoulides told DW during an interview on Tuesday morning. "We are comfortable that things will be done in a way that Cyprus will not be [sidestepped] in any possible use in operations," he added.

Fear of reprisals

Just hours after United States Secretary of State John Kerry made clear that military action is all but inevitable, reports about Cyprus being used as a cog in any military action filled local airwaves.

The major concern for the Cypriot population is that such complicity, even involuntary, could provoke contagion and place the island in danger - especially after the Syrian foreign minister said Monday that his country was prepared to "confront the whole world" in the face of western military threats.

"Well one can never exclude the risks," said Kasoulides. "Particularly, if some of the stakeholders in this conflict - which is much wider than Syria itself - are in possession of ballistic missiles. But this is a very hypothetical question and the possibility of this is remote. A decision has not been taken yet about any military action, and I am sure that [the responsible authorities] are awaiting the results of the UN investigation - despite the fact everybody knows the evidence will not be as convincing as it would have been, had the investigation taken place a few days earlier."

'No increased activity'

Akrotiri is one of the largest military bases outside the UK and has traditionally been used to support operations in the region, and not for offensive purposes. To the horror of many Cypriots, the Guardian newspaper reported Tuesday that Akrotiri locals had noticed a surge in activity around the airfield during the past 48 hours.

Nicosia has no control over what happens at the base, which London has no intention of relinquishing despite the overwhelming majority of Cypriots viewing them as unwelcome and unwanted. Kasoulides says that Cyprus is against further use of violence and escalation of tension, but even now remains in the dark as to what form any military action may take.

SYMBOLBILD USA verstärken Marine-Präsenz vor syrischer Küste

The US Marine presence on the Syrian coast has been beefed up following last week's deadly attack in Damascus

"The second question which has not been answered is what sort of military action is going to take place and from where? The biggest possibility is that land bases, like the British bases in Cyprus will not be necessary for the main thrust of any action by air. Most probably [the bases] will only be used for backup support."

When asked, British Forces Cyprus said that there was "no increased activity at RAF Akrotiri at this present time."

Refugees expected

With the US and the UK stepping up their rhetoric of a possible military strike, Cyprus is stuck with another headache as it prepares for the repatriation of Cypriots, Europeans and third country nationals leaving Syria and Lebanon.

"Not only are we prepared, but we have been preparing ourselves for sometime now and we are mobilizing all the government departments that will be deployed should developments lead to a generalized conflict," says Kasoulides.

The Foreign Ministry says it is also expecting an influx of refugees to Cyprus if Lebanon gets involved in the conflict and has warned that the number of refugees will increase if there is an intervention from Western countries. That has sparked concerns that refugees may see Cyprus not just as a transit point, but as a long-term place of safety.

Few doubt that this small country of fewer than one million inhabitants will struggle to deal with any refugee influx. Furthermore, it is currently tourist season in Cyprus, and the revenue brought in by that industry is vital. With the country already under strain because of the eurozone crisis and unpopular austerity measures, any wider conflict in Syria would be a further burden on the Cypriot economy and its government.

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