Cyprus says ‘Friendly’ nation to test missiles in Mediterranean

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Cyprus said Monday it had been informed that missile tests will be carried out by a “friendly” country in the eastern Mediterranean this week, as the U.S. weighs military strikes against Syria.

The tests come after Israel last week launched an Ankor (Sparrow) missile in the Mediterranean, ratcheting up the tension in a region already jittery over the possible fallout from any US-led military intervention against Syria.

Foreign Minister Ioanis Kasoulides told state radio a “friendly country” not taking part in any planned action against Syria would carry out the tests from Monday to Saturday.

He did not name the country, although it is believed to be Israel, and a government source told AFP the test area covered 12,700 nautical miles in the east Mediterranean.

Last Tuesday, Israel launched a radar missile from the Mediterranean in a joint exercise with the United States. Israeli media reported that the launch was to test missile tracking capabilities.

Many raised questions about the timing of the test, which was conducted at a time when Washington and its allies had moved to a war footing in the region.

Any U.S.-.led military action against Syria is widely expected to be launched from the sea.

Kasoulides reiterated that he had received “explicit assurances” the British air base at Akrotiri on the island’s south coast would not be used in any strike on Damascus.

He also said Cyprus has been assured that RAF Akrotiri is not a target for the Syrian government.

Cypriot Defence Minister Fotis Fotiou meanwhile said on Monday the island 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.

“Cyprus is a center of stability and peace, there is no need to worry or to panic,” he said.

“If Cyprus was not a safe destination it would not have chosen by other countries to evacuate their nationals here,” Fotiou told reporters.

“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 if Cyprus is implicated in any war discussion about Syria tourists will be scared away. The recession-hit island is banking on much-needed tourism revenue to exit its euro crisis.

Britain is Cyprus’s 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 -- so this is not time to spread panic,” said Fotiou.

Last month Britain deployed six Typhoon fighter jets to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus as a precautionary measure to protect its assets on the island in case of retaliation from Damascus.

In summer of 2006 Cyprus became a safe haven for nearly 40,000 foreign nationals who fled Lebanon during the conflict with Israel. It was the biggest evacuation by sea seen since World War II.

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