Lebanese officials aim to maintain friendly relations with Cyprus after threats from Hezbollah

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BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese government officials worked Thursday to maintain friendly relations with Cyprus, a day after the militant Hezbollah group threatened to attack the Mediterranean island if it allows Israel to use its territory to attack Lebanon.

The Lebanese state news agency said Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib told his Cypriot counterpart that Beirut relies on the positive role Cyprus plays in supporting stability in the Middle East.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned Cyprus with a rare threat not to allow the Israeli military to use its airports on the island to bomb Lebanon should an outright war break out between Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

Some Lebanese media outlets reported earlier Thursday that the Cypriot embassy was closed, but the mission later clarified that it was not accepting visa applications for administrative updates and that the embassy will introduce an appointment-based visa application system from Monday.

The Border between Lebanon and Israel has witnessed almost daily gun battles between Hezbollah and the Israeli army, killing more than 400 people in Lebanon since October 8. Most of the fatalities are combatants, but there are also more than 80 civilians and non-combatants. Sixteen soldiers and eleven civilians have been killed on the Israeli side in the past eight months.

The level of threats between Israel and Hezbollah has increased following Israel’s killing of Hezbollah members last week. highest commander since the fighting began. Hezbollah retaliated by firing hundreds of rockets into northern Israel in retaliation.

Cyprus and Lebanon have enjoyed close and historic relations for decades and the island became a refuge for thousands of Lebanese who stayed on the island during the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War. Many Lebanese citizens moved back to Cyprus after the war historic economic crisis in Lebanon, which started in late 2019.

In recent years, Cyprus has had increasingly close relations with Israel and the island has hosted joint Israeli-Cypriot military exercises, but has not been involved in any military operations.

Nasrallah said his group has information that the Israeli army is carrying out maneuvers in Cyprus in mountainous areas similar to those of Lebanon, adding that they also use Cypriot airports.

He added that Hezbollah has information that Israel believes that in the event an all-out war breaks out, Hezbollah will attack its airports and for that reason Israel could use “in its war against Lebanon-Cypriot airports and bases.”

Nasrallah added that when Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides recently visited Lebanon, Lebanese officials spoke to him about the issue and he denied there were any such plans.

“The Cypriot government must ensure that opening the airports and bases in Cyprus for the Israeli enemy to attack Lebanon means that the Cypriot government has become part of the war,” Nasrallah said. “The resistance (Hezbollah) will tackle it (Cyprus) as part of the war.”

Cypriot government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis reiterated that any suggestion that Cyprus, either through its infrastructure or territory, is involved in a military operation in Lebanon is “totally unfounded.”

Nasrallah was criticized by some Lebanese politicians who warned that his comments could damage relations with Cyprus and the European Union.

“Cyprus was a place of refuge and welcomed all Lebanese, but Nasrallah insists we no longer have a friend,” lawmaker Elias Hankash of the Christian Kataeb Party told Al-Arabiya TV. “The threat to Europe leaves Lebanon in complete isolation.”

Peter Stano, a spokesman for the European Union’s executive branch, said Thursday that any threat against Cyprus is a threat against the bloc’s 26 other member states.

Last year, Cyprus said it had disrupted the situation an alleged Iranian plot to attack Israeli businessmen with the arrest of two Iranian asylum seekers who were in contact with another Iranian linked to the Revolutionary Guards.

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Hadjicostis reported from Nicosia, Cyprus.

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