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

NICOSIA Mon Sep 9, 2013 9:18am EDT

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.

Nicosia 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, the European Union member closest to the Middle East, to host its nationals and offer humanitarian aid if necessary, Stylianides said in a statement.

Separately, government sources said an unnamed country had issued an advisory for military exercises in three areas covering 12,700 nautical square miles south of the island.

An unannounced military drill by Israel on September 3 spread jitters throughout the region. Israel declined comment on whether it was the country which planned the exercises this week, which sources said would end on September 14.

"Its a friendly country, among those which does not intend to take part in any strike," Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides told state radio.

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

But there are concerns about the impact any escalation of tensions could have on its tourist industry, a major earner for the country, 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.

Despite occasional incidents involving foreign security services, the island has avoided being sucked into Middle Eastern violence.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Paul Taylor)

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