Cyprus nonplussed by Hezbollah threat it could be dragged into regional war

Calling Nasrallah’s comments ‘not pleasant,’ Cypriot president says country ‘is in no way involved in war conflict’ as EU decries ‘any threats against our member states’

Tourists sit under a tree for shade amid hot weather at Eleftherias, Liberty, square in central capital Nicosia, Cyprus, on Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP/Petros Karadjias)
Tourists sit under a tree for shade amid hot weather at Eleftherias, Liberty, square in central capital Nicosia, Cyprus, on Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus reacted with incredulity on Thursday to warnings from the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group that the island could be dragged into conflict if tensions with Israel blew up into a fully-fledged war.

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

“The Republic of Cyprus is in no way involved in war conflict,” Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides responded, describing Nasrallah’s comments as “not pleasant.”

The EU also weighed in. “Any threats against our member state are threats against the EU,” a spokesperson said.

Cyprus has always viewed itself as above the politics of its neighbors 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 Palestinians amid the ongoing war in Gaza, sparked by Hamas’s brutal massacre in southern Israeli communities.

A ship, left, belonging to the Open Arms aid group departs from Larnaca, Cyprus, to Gaza with some 200 tons of rice and flour, March 12, 2024. (AP/Petros Karadjias)

“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 ties with Israel, and the more visible involvement of British sovereign bases on the island in military operations in Syria and, more recently, Yemen. The Israel Air Force is also known to conduct exercises in Cyprus’s airspace, and in recent years the two countries have conducted joint military drills.

Israeli troops hold a major drill in Cyprus, in an image published by the military on June 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Cypriots in the divided capital Nicosia said people had enough to deal with from the lingering complications of Turkey’s invasion of northern Cyprus in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup.

“Last night when I heard about the news, yes, I was worried,” said Filios Christodoulou, 84.

Others were unfazed.

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

Cyprus’s President Nikos Christodoulides speaks at the EPP Congress in Bucharest, Romania, March 7, 2024. (AP/Andreea Alexandru)

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there. The Israel Defense Forces said earlier this week that intensified cross-border fire from Lebanon could trigger serious escalation.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 15 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 349 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 63 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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