Chemical base

THE GOVERNMENT yesterday dismissed as pure fantasy Turkish news reports claiming that Israel plans to deploy as many as 20,000 commandos in Cyprus in order to protect its energy projects in the region.

Acting government spokesman Christos Christofides said the report - first broadcast by Turkey's state-run news agency Anatolia - was clearly a plant.

"It is through such groundless leaks that Ankara seeks to justify its intransigence at the negotiating table, to blast the Cyprus peace talks and focus on so-called plan B's, and to stoke tensions ahead of Cyprus' assumption of the EU Presidency," said Christofides.

According to Anatolia - whose report was later picked up by most Turkish Cypriot newspapers - the deal to deploy Israeli troops on the island was struck in February during the visit here by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Nothing of the like was ever discussed with Israel, Christofides stressed. "What we do have, in regard to cooperation with Israel, is the agreement signed by the Defence Minister during his visit to Israel," he said.

Israel's Foreign Ministry also denied the report in a written statement, saying the claims were "baseless and disconnected from reality."

"Israel has never sent troops to any other country in its history," the statement said, adding that it should be questioned why such a report was prepared by Anatolia in the first place.

Back in January Nicosia and Tel Aviv signed two defence and intelligence agreements concerning cooperation and the exchange of classified information.

Anatolia said Netanyahu offered to undertake all of the expenses required to construct a natural gas terminal in Cyprus. In return, the Israeli leader asked that all of the 10,000 personnel that would work at the plant be brought in from Israel with their families, increasing the number of Israeli citizens in the area to nearly 30,000.

Given that the high number of Israelis in Cyprus would present a security issue, Netanyahu suggested sending as many as 20,000 Israeli commandos to safeguard both the Israelis and the natural gas plant, the Turkish news agency said. Both troops and civilians would be located in Limassol.

Anatolia claimed to be drawing its information from a Greek Cypriot source, whom it quoted as saying: "The Israelis who come, settle here for good."

According to the news agency, President Christofias asked Netanyahu to convince Israeli businessmen to halt their investments in the breakaway regime and even to push for a resolution in the Knesset banning such investments.

Anatolia's report comes days after Nicosia announced the results of bidding for its second licensing round, with several high-calibre companies from around the world submitting applications to explore and drill for gas in offshore blocks.

Offshore gas prospecting by Cyprus has angered Turkey, which says the action abuses Turkish Cypriots' rights to the island's resources.

Earlier this month Turkey made official its plans for offshore hydrocarbon exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, with some of the areas overlapping Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Last week Turkey said it scrambled two F-16 fighter jets from Incirlik air base on Monday to intercept an unidentified Israeli aircraft flying in the region above northern Cyprus.

According to the Turkish General Staff, the Israeli aircraft allegedly violated the breakaway regime’s airspace, recognised as such only by Turkey.

Meanwhile Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz has said that Turkey plans to procure a new seismic research ship to explore for hydrocarbons around the island. The vessel, dubbed the 'Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha', would cost some US$100 million and would conduct 3-D surveys in the areas already covered by the 'Piri Reis'.

Source: Cyprus-Mail

By Elias Hazou

Published on May 22, 2012

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