Cyprus rules out role in any U.S.-led strike on Syria

NICOSIA Mon Sep 9, 2013 5:35am EDT

An AirTanker Airbus Voyager aircraft prepares to land at a British base at Akrotiri, near the city of Limassol, in Cyprus August 29 2013. REUTERS/Yiannis Nisiotis

An AirTanker Airbus Voyager aircraft prepares to land at a British base at Akrotiri, near the city of Limassol, in Cyprus August 29 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Yiannis Nisiotis

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NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus said on Monday it would have no involvement of any kind in a potential U.S.-led strike on Syria, which lies about 100 km (60 miles) to its east.

It would, however, be ready to offer assistance to third-country nationals evacuated from the Middle East, Cypriot government spokesman Christos Stylianides said.

The island's close proximity to the Middle East and the British military bases there has given rise to speculation about its role in a U.S.-led strike, even though Britain's parliament has ruled out any offensive operation.

"Any contribution of the Republic of Cyprus is strictly humanitarian," Stylianides said. "It's clear that in no case will it become a launchpad of military operations, or a target of attacks."

A significant number of countries had asked Cyprus to host its nationals and offer humanitarian aid if necessary, Stylianides said in a statement.

With Syria being one of its geographically-closest neighbors, Cypriot officials have been at pains to stress the island is a safe destination.

But there are concerns about the impact any escalation of tensions could have on its tourist industry, a main earner for the island, which was economically crippled by the terms of an international bailout in March.

Cyprus hosted thousands of Lebanese fleeing that country's civil war in the 1970s and 1980s and was an evacuation hub for thousands of people fleeing a brief war between Israel and Lebanon's Hizbollah movement in 2006.

It has a history of staying neutral in neighboring conflicts.

Its decision to confiscate a shipment of weapons from Iran to Syria in 2009 triggered its worst peace-time disaster in 2011, when the cargo accidentally exploded, destroying the island's largest power station and triggering a recession culminating in the bailout.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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