The two ministers said they were particularly concerned about the escalating violence in Syria and want to see a peaceful solution of the internal crisis without outside military interventions and ‘with full respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country.’
Cyprus and Russia are close allies, and so are Russia and Syria, which puts Cyprus in an extremely delicate position given that it is an EU member state and expected to enforce sanctions against the Syrian government.
Earlier this week, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said that his country would use chemical weapons in case of ‘external aggression’ against Syria. Chemical weapons are monitored and guarded by the Syrian Army, and would not be used during the ‘internal crisis’, he said.
Meanwhile, the Syrian airforce has started an attack on the city of Aleppo, the largest population centre in the country. Syria has a population of 26 million people.
The EU decided to tighten sanctions on the Syrian government amid fears that it will use chemical weapons on the population. EU countries will be obliged to inspect vessels and aircraft heading to Syria if they suspect the cargo contains arms or equipment for ‘internal repression’, according to a statement after this week’s EU Foreign Affairs Council.
“This obligation applies in member states’ seaports and airports as well as in their territorial sea, in accordance with international law. Items that may not be exported to Syria under EU law must be seized. In addition, aircraft and vessels heading to Syria will have to provide additional pre-arrival and pre-departure information on their cargo,” said EU foreign ministers, including Marcoullis.
Cyprus is right in the middle of a major shipping line as one of the closest ports in the Eastern Mediterranean to Syria. Earlier this year, the government came under fire for not confiscating arms being shipped to Syria, from Russia, even though it stopped the vessel carrying them, the MV Chariot. Since the deadly explosion at Evangelos Florakis naval base – in which 98 containers of confiscated arms blew up – the government has treated vessels suspected of smuggling arms like plague ships.
The constant supply of weapons to Syria from Russia has frustrated the international community. Last week, an angry William Hague said the UK and the rest of the international community would do more outside the UN Security Council after a Chapter 7 resolution calling for Bashar al Assad to step down failed to pass due to Russian and Chinese opposition. The UK will give practical support to the Syrian opposition – but not lethal support, said Hague.
However, he did not rule out arming the rebels in the future. According to information, the Syrian opposition is already receiving arms, likely from Saudi Arabia. The UK favours an arms embargo on every side in Syria, but arms trading is happening anyway, said Hague.
“We will work with now more than 100 nations in the Friends of Syria to intensify the pressure on the Assad regime, to isolate them more completely from the rest of the world,” he said.
The picture that is emerging is that Russia is backing the current Syrian regime headed by Bashar al Assad, and the Arab League, EU and US are backing the rebels. Whether Cyprus can play this kind of game by sitting on the fence between both sides remains to be seen. Which side will it choose, ask observers.
The civil war in Syria is growing worse. In the last week, three Syrian ministers have been killed in a suicide bombing and there is all-out war in Damascus and other parts of the country. Rebel fighters say they have taken strategic towns along the Turkey-Syria border.
Turkey and Russia are closely shadowing the conflict, Turkey has armed troops built up along its border with Syria after one of its jets was shot down over the country. Today, it suspended all trucks from passing through its border.
And Russia has just sent six warships to its port in Tartus, two of them via Cyprus’ Limassol Port. An estimated 17,000 people – mostly civilians – have died in the civil war between Assad’s security forces and opposition groups.