November 19, 2015 / 12:24 PM / in 3 years

Cyprus says facilities at France's disposal to fight Islamic State

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus’s facilities are available to France to fight Islamic State after the wave of attacks across the French capital, the Mediterranean island’s foreign minister said on Thursday.

French army soldiers secure the area around the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle as it leaves the naval base of Toulon, France, November 18, 2015. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

France invoked the European Union’s mutual assistance clause for the first time on Tuesday, asking its partners for military help and other aid in missions in the Middle East and Africa after the Paris attacks, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

Cyprus is the closest European Union member state to Syria, lying about 70 miles off its shores. It is already being used as a staging post by British sovereign bases on the island to attack Islamic State targets in Iraq.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulidis said there had been no request so far for assistance from France, but Nicosia would help if required.

“I want to make it clear that we will wait for the French authorities, if they want to ask (for) something from us, particularly as regards our location and our facilities,” Ioannis Kasoulidis told reporters, speaking in English.

“We would be very glad to provide them with this solidarity and assistance.”

Cyprus has an air base on the western coast of the island, which is already at the disposal of western powers for humanitarian missions or emergency landings.

However Kasoulidis’s comments clearly indicated the Cypriots, who have for decades opposed using the island as a launchpad, were willing to up their assistance a notch.

Asked if Cyprus was willing to support launching missions from the island against Islamic State, Kasoulidis, who was speaking at a joint news conference with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, said:

“We have not been asked about launching, but as you know, we have given all our support to the British bases launching from Cyprus.”

Britain, a former colonial power, has two military bases in Cyprus. For years used as a logistics backup for operations in the Middle East, Britain started using its RAF facility on the island last year to strike at targets in Iraq.

Hammond said Britain had no plans at the moment to step up operations from RAF Akrotiri.

Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Toby Chopra

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