Cyprus not part of Mideast war, its president says after Hezbollah threats

The Cypriot embassy in Beirut announces it will not receive any visa applications or papers for legalization on Thursday

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Cyprus is part of the solution and not the problem, the country’s President Nikos Christodoulides said on Wednesday after Lebanon’s Hezbollah threatened the Mediterranean nation if it opened its airports and bases to Israel.

“I have read the remarks made. My answer is that the Republic of Cyprus is not involved in the war in any way,” Christodoulides said, responding to comments from Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah, according to a statement on the presidency’s website.

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In his speech on Wednesday, Nasrallah warned the nearby island-nation that the Iran-backed group would consider the Cypriot government part of the ongoing Gaza war if it assisted Israel.

“Opening Cypriot airports and bases to the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon would mean that the Cypriot government is part of the war, and the resistance will deal with it as part of the war,” Nasrallah threatened.

The Lebanese foreign ministry assured in a statement on Thursday that the “Lebanese-Cypriot relations are based on a long history of diplomatic cooperation.”

It emphasized that bilateral communication and consultation between the neighboring countries are ongoing and consistent at the highest levels.

Christodoulides said “Cyprus is not part of the problem … [it] is part of the solution. And our role, as manifested, for example, through the humanitarian corridor [to Gaza], is being recognized not only by the Arab world, but by the entire international community.”

“I therefore reiterate that Cyprus, our country, is not involved in any way,” he added. He also noted that Nasrallah’s remarks “are not pleasant [and] they do not correspond in any way to what is alleged, that is, to present the image that Cyprus is involved in war activities.”

Cyprus opened a sea corridor in March to ship aid directly to Gaza, where deliveries via land have been severely disrupted by border closures and Israel’s military operations.

Following the speech, the Cypriot embassy in Beirut announced via its social media platforms that it “will not be receiving any visa applications or papers for legalization on [Thursday], 20 June 2024. Passports and legalized papers may be collected as normal by showing the receipt issued by the Consulate upon the application for a visa.”

The post raised concerns among some on whether the decision was related to Hezbollah’s threats.

However, the Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos informed his Lebanese counterpart Abdullah Bouhabib that the decision to close the embassy on Thursday was for one day only.

Kombos told Bouhabib in a call between the two that the decision was “predetermined for administrative reasons related to the visa system, and it will resume work as usual starting tomorrow,” according to a separate statement released by the Lebanese foreign ministry.

The embassy announced last week that it was going to stop receiving visa applications “on the 11th and 12th of June 2024, due to readjustment of Visa fees from the European Commission, for both individuals and travel agencies.”

During the call, Bouhabib underscored Lebanon’s reliance on the positive role that Cyprus plays in supporting the region’s stability. For his part, Kombos stressed that his country “has no intention of getting involved in any way in the ongoing war in the region.”

Hezbollah, an ally of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, began trading fire with Israel across the southern border in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Concerns have recently mounted that the escalation of cross-border attacks between Hezbollah and Israel would turn into a full-fledged war.

Cyprus is not known to offer any land or base facilities to the Israeli military, but it has in the past allowed Israel to use its vast airspace – its flight information region – to conduct air drills occasionally, but never during the conflict.

Christodoulides, according to the statement, said that channels of communication between Cyprus and the governments of Lebanon and Iran remain open.

“There are channels of communication through the diplomatic route,” he said.

With Reuters

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