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Cyprus faces international backlash over UK’s use of British bases in Yemen conflict

The Cyprus government is under increasingly scrutiny for allowing British military bases on the island to be used by UK and US forces for airstrikes against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. This development has put pressure on President Nicos Christodoulides, with accusations of overlooking potential risks to the EU’s easternmost state. These military operations involve the use of strategic facilities on Cyprus, raising concerns among activists and locals.

It has been reported that the US ambassador and British high commissioner briefed President Christodoulides on the planned military actions in Yemen before the airstrikes began. The visibility of increasing warplane activity has heightened fears about Cyprus becoming a potential target.

Cyprus hosts two British military installations, established as sovereign overseas territories when Cyprus gained independence in 1960. These bases cover about 3% of Cyprus’s land area. While unconfirmed, it is believed that US forces are also present at these facilities. EU diplomats in Nicosia have hinted at seeing US military surveillance and other aircraft at these bases.

The Cyprus government, through its spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis, has stated that the island is not directly involved in any military operations. The bases’ treaty of establishment reportedly does not obligate the UK to inform Cypriot authorities about activities within these facilities.

Tensions escalated after RAF Akrotiri, one of the bases, was used to launch airstrikes on Houthi positions in Yemen. These strikes were in response to Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. The Houthis have justified their actions as a response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

British Defence Minister Grant Shapps visited Cyprus to meet with President Christodoulides, aiming to reassure the island’s security. He stated that the Houthis do not pose an immediate threat to Cyprus.

The airstrikes have raised concerns about the Israel-Gaza conflict escalating into a wider regional issue. Both the US and UK have expressed their readiness to continue airstrikes if necessary. Cypriot activists worry that the British bases might also be used to send military aid to Israel, though this has not been confirmed by either country.

Protests have been held, particularly near RAF Akrotiri, with demonstrators voicing their opposition to Cyprus being used in the conflict that has caused significant casualties, primarily among women and children. These concerns are deeply felt in Cyprus, a country familiar with the impacts of war.

Reports indicate an increase in military transport planes traveling from Akrotiri to Tel Aviv since the Gaza war escalated. While the UK’s defence ministry denies using these facilities to transport lethal cargo to Israel, they highlight the humanitarian aid being delivered to Gaza from Cyprus.

US officials have declined to comment on specific military logistics but maintain that their actions comply with international law and are coordinated with allies.

Dr. Iain Overton, Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence, said of the developing scandal: “The situation in Cyprus, with its use of British bases for airstrikes, underscores a troubling reality. It is not just about the immediate destruction caused by such actions, but also about the longer-term consequences. These include not only the potential for retaliatory attacks but also the erosion of trust among local populations and the international community. We must advocate for transparency and accountability in military operations, ensuring that they are in line with international humanitarian law and do not exacerbate existing tensions or create new ones. Ultimately, the UK’s goal should be to promote peace and stability, not to contribute to cycles of violence.”

Cypriot peace activists, including both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, have united in their criticism of the bases’ use, urging the government to take a stronger stance against their involvement in regional conflicts. This situation has reignited long-standing debates and protests against the presence of these bases on Cypriot soil.