After EgyptAir hijacking, Israeli Air Force jets take to skies


The Israeli Air Force scrambled its jets after the hijacking of an EgyptAir plane traveling from Alexandria to Cairo.

The plane was taken to Cyprus on Tuesday morning after a passenger threatened to blow himself up. It was not known if the passenger had a bomb strapped to himself, though he was treated as if he did.

EgyptAir flight MS181, landed in Larnaca, located on the southern coast of Cyprus, where the hijacker allowed most of the 81 passengers, including several Americans, and crew off the plane. Four crew members and three foreign passengers remained on board, according to the Egyptian aviation minister.

The hijacker was arrested by Cypriot security officials the same afternoon, ending the standoff.

The case has not been ruled a terrorist incident, as the would-be bomber reportedly had asked to see his estranged wife.

“It is not something which has to do with terrorism,” Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters.

The Israeli war planes were deployed to protect Israel’s airspace, the IDF said.

“IDF planes were called up in light of the hijacking of an Egyptian plane to ensure Israeli airspace was not breached. When the plane landed in Cyprus, they returned to their base,” the IDF spokesman said.

EgyptAir hijack ends with passengers freed


An EgyptAir plane flying from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus on Tuesday by a man with what authorities said was a fake suicide belt, who was arrested after giving himself up.

The passengers and crew were unharmed. Eighty-one people, including 21 foreigners and 15 crew, were on board the Airbus 320, Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement.

Conflicting theories emerged about the motives of the hijacker, an Egyptian. A senior Cypriot official said he seemed unstable and the incident did not appear related to terrorism. The Cypriot state broadcaster said he had demanded the release of women prisoners in Egypt.

In the midst of the hijack, witnesses said he threw a letter on the apron at Cyprus's Larnaca airport, written in Arabic, and asked that it be delivered to his Cypriot ex-wife.

After the aircraft landed at Larnaca, negotiations began and everyone on board was freed except three passengers and four crew, Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fethy said.

Soon afterwards, Cypriot television footage showed several people leaving the plane via the stairs and another man climbing out of the cockpit window and running off.

The hijacker then surrendered to authorities.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said the hijacker had threatened to blow himself up and demanded that the aircraft be refueled and head to Istanbul.

“It looks like he realized his demands would not be met, allowing the last two hostages, Britons, to flee the aircraft. He also tried to leave, running out. He was arrested,” said Kasoulides.

“The explosives on him were examined. They weren’t explosives, but mobile phone covers.”

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said the hijacker would be questioned to ascertain his motives. “At some moments he asked to meet with a representative of the European Union and at other points he asked to go to another airport but there was nothing specific,” he said.

“ABNORMAL” HIJACKER

Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said the pilot, Omar al-Gammal, had told authorities that he was threatened by a passenger who claimed to be wearing an explosive belt and forced him to divert the plane to Larnaca.

Reached by telephone, Gammal told Reuters that the hijacker seemed “abnormal”. Sounding exhausted, he said he had been obliged to treat the man as a serious security threat.

Photographs on Egyptian state television showed a middle-aged man on a plane wearing glasses and displaying a white belt with bulging pockets and protruding wires.

Television channels showed video footage of the hijacker, identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa, 59, being searched by security men at a metal detector at Borg al-Arab airport in Alexandria.

Interior Ministry officials said he was expelled from law school and had a long criminal record, including robberies.

Fethy, the Egyptian minister, said authorities suspected the suicide belt was not genuine but treated the incident as serious to ensure the safety of all those on board.

“We cannot say this was a terrorist act… he was not a professional,” Fethy told reporters after the incident.

EgyptAir delayed a New York-bound flight from Cairo onto which some passengers of the hijacked plane had been due to connect. Fethy said it was delayed partly due to a technical issue but partly as a precaution.

The hijacked plane remained on the tarmac at Larnaca throughout the morning while Cypriot security forces took up positions around the scene.

EGYPT'S IMAGE

The incident will deal another blow to Egypt's tourism industry and hurt efforts to revive an economy hammered by political unrest following the 2011 uprising that ousted veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak.

The sector, a main source of hard currency for the import-dependent county, was already reeling from the crash of a Russian passenger plane in the Sinai peninsula in late October.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said the Russian plane was brought down by a terrorist attack. Islamic State has said it planted a bomb on board, killing all 224 people on board.

The latest incident raised renewed questions over airport security, though it was not clear whether the hijacker was even armed. Ismail said stringent measures were in place.

Passengers on the plane included eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians, an Italian, a Syrian and a French national, the Civil Aviation Ministry said.

Cyprus has seen little militant activity for decades, despite its proximity to the Middle East.

A botched attempt by Egyptian commandos to storm a hijacked airliner at Larnaca airport led to the disruption of diplomatic relations between Cyprus and Egypt in 1978.

In 1988, a Kuwaiti airliner which had been hijacked from Bangkok to Kuwait in a 16-day siege had a stopover in Larnaca, where two hostages were killed.

Tense airplane drama dissolves into bedroom farce


Passengers on EgyptAir flight MS181 from Alexandria to Cairo took off into bright skies at 6:30 am, then, rather quickly, noticed the flight veer towards the sea.

There is no body of water between Egypt’s two largest cities which are separated by 179 kilometers of desert.

Thus began a tense episode of time travel back to the 1970s when bell-bottoms, unruly curls, political polemic and dangerous airport standoffs viewed through grainy screens were commonplace.

Initial reports spoke of a man wearing a suicide belt who demanded that the pilots fly to Turkey. After being informed there was insufficient fuel on board, the unlikely hijacker agreed to a diversion to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

Witnesses described a jet on a distant runway, Special Forces concealed behind flimsy walls, a jeep driving around, then a slow stream of passengers, initially women and children, descending from the plane. It may well have been 1973.

Terror in the age of the Islamic State is not usually quite so balmy.

Observing the scene, one Greek analyst ventured to report that “it could be a mental disturbance and have nothing to do with terror, maybe a somewhat unstable man…”

Then, Cypriot media began reporting that the man’s motives were, “um, romantic?” He requested that a letter be delivered to his former wife, resident in a nearby Cypriot village.

Aviv Oreg, the former head of the Israeli army’s Global Jihad desk and a former security officer with El Al Airlines, told The Media Line that the events unfolding in Larnaca, Cyprus’ capital, looked like “a personal thing. This happens from time.”

“I’m not shocked,” he said. “Explosives can be things you buy at the supermarket or pharmacy… anyone online can find instructions on how to make a bomb.”

After several misidentifications, including one involving a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Alexandria, who, alarmed, called the BBC to announce that he was not the hijacker but merely a passenger stuck on the plane, the culprit was identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa, an Egyptian living in Cyprus.

He had told the pilot that he was wearing a suicide belt and threatened to detonate it.

He had given Cypriot authorities a handwritten letter in Arabic demanding the release of political prisoners in Egypt and insisting on a meeting with his former wife.

Mrs. Mustafa was duly transported to Larnaca airport and the Internet into high comedy mode.

Khaled Diab, Egyptian author and blogger, posted a personal message to the man he called the #lovejacker: “Next time, send flowers, you idiot!”

“One man's terrorist is another woman's lover-boy. #EgyptAir” he later added.

A tweeter using the handle @IronyisFunny posted “All moderate ex-husbands must now condemn this #EgyptAir Hijacking!”

Holly Dagres, the Iranian-American commentator, added “After #LoveJacking of #EgyptAir flight, bar is now set extremely high for men to show their love. #Egypt

An Egyptian travel agency called Lion’s Trips cheerfully proposed passengers book a flight to the Egyptian resort town of “Hurghada with us and… possibly end up in Cyprus, or, who knows. France or Italy. It’s a crapshoot!”

Speaking with The Media Line, Diab, who was doing French homework with his son, said that “most people seem to be taking it with a mix of relief and humor, especially jokes about the bad internet connection and postal service that forced the guy to deliver his letter by hand, or jokes about passengers grateful to be in Cyprus.”

“Who knows,” Diab pondered. “I mean, he could be like a lot of bigger-than-tragic figures in Arabic poetry, just a hopeless romantic or a terrible stalker or a combination of the two.”

Israel trained against Russian-made air defense system in Greece


Israel has quietly tested ways of defeating an advanced air-defense system that Russia has deployed in the Middle East and that could limit Israel's ability to strike in Syria or Iran, military and diplomatic sources said.

The sources said a Russian S-300 anti-aircraft system, sold to Cyprus 18 years ago but now located on the Greek island of Crete, had been activated during joint drills between the Greek and Israeli air forces in April-May this year.

The activation allowed Israel's warplanes to test how the S-300's lock-on system works, gathering data on its powerful tracking radar and how it might be blinded or bluffed.

One defense source in the region said Greece had done so at the request of the United States, Israel’s chief ally, on at least one occasion in the past year. It was unclear whether Israel had shared its findings with its allies.

“Part of the maneuvers involved pitting Israeli jets against Greek anti-aircraft systems,” one source said. Two other sources said the Crete S-300 was among the systems turned on.

The sources spoke to Reuters on condition they not be identified by name or nationality. The Greek and Israeli militaries declined to confirm or deny any use of the S-300 system during drills held in the Eastern Mediterranean last April-May or similar exercises in 2012 and 2010.

A senior Greek Defence Ministry official, asked whether the system was operating during Greek-Israeli military exercises, said: “At this moment the S-300 is not in operation.” He said Athens' general policy was not to permit any other country to test the system's abilities.

The S-300, first deployed at the height of the Cold War in 1979, can engage multiple aircraft and ballistic missiles up to 300 km (186 miles) away. Israel is concerned by Russia's plan to supply S-300s to Iran.

Israel says Egypt, with which it has a cold peace, has bought a variant of the system. The Israelis also worry about Moscow's announcement last month that it will deploy the S-300 or the kindred system S-400 from its own arsenal in Syria, in response to Turkey's shooting down of a Russian jet there.

Israel has bombed Syrian targets on occasion and is loath to run up against the Russians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met President Vladimir Putin at least twice in recent weeks to discuss coordination and try to avoid accidents.

LEARNING FROM FRIENDS

Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military expert with the Royal United Services Institute in London, said that for Israel training against the Crete S-300 would be “precisely what you need” to study the system's radar frequency, pattern and reach.

“If you know all these details then you are perfectly fitted to replicate this same signal, which means you have a chance to imitate, to sort of bluff-echo” the S-300, he said.

“You can brutally jam it,” he said. “You can take the signal and return it, and then you send another ping which imitates the same signal. So instead of one target, the radar operator sees three, five or 10 and he does not know where to fire.”

Tal Inbar, senior scholar for the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv, said S-300s in areas where Israel operates or might want to operate would challenge its advanced, U.S.-backed military – but not insuperably so.

“In general, any system can be defeated this way or that. Some are harder and some are easier,” he said. “The rule of thumb is that if your friends have a system that you are interested in, you can learn all kinds of things about it.”

The Crete S-300 was originally bought by Cyprus in 1997, triggering a vitriolic response from Turkey, its decades-old adversary. Under pressure from Britain and NATO, then Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides agreed to store the S-300 on Crete. A 2007 Greek-Cypriot arms swap formally transferred it to Athens.

Greece has experienced a boom in ties with Israel since Israel's once-strong alliance with Turkey broke down in 2010.

After this year's joint drill, Israel's official air force journal said maneuvers had involved all of Greece's air combat arm and “other apparatuses”. It offered no details, but quoted an Israeli air force captain as saying the exercise had fostered “flexibility in thinking and dealing with the unknown”.

Cyprus and Israel agree to strengthen ties on energy, security


Israel and Cyprus agreed on Tuesday to expand their cooperation on energy issues, including the use of pipelines and electricity grids to link to European markets, as both countries develop natural gas fields off their coasts.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said they would seek to tap the potential of natural gas in the sea bed beneath both countries.

“There is palpably renewed energy in our relationship, I mean that figuratively and literally,” Netanyahu said. “… We think that by cooperating with each other we can take it out more easily, we can market it better, to the betterment of both our societies.”

Israel has reported some of the largest natural gas discoveries worldwide in the past decade. Cyprus found gas offshore in 2011.

Netanahyu said the two countries were exploring various options on collaboration, but did not elaborate. Anastasiades said among the options were an east Mediterranean pipeline and the Eurasia interconnector, a private project to transport to Europe electricity powered by natural gas.

“With the Prime Minister, we agree exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbon assets is a sovereign right that is instrumental in the wider regional context and as part of a reciprocally beneficial relationship,” Anastasiades said.

Netanyahu said the two countries would also explore tightening security cooperation. Last month, a Lebanese man was jailed in Cyprus on charges of hauling ammonium nitrate on the island, which both countries blamed on a plot by the Islamist group Hezbollah.

“We want to achieve peace, peace depends on security and ultimately if you don't have the capacity to defend that peace it collapses very rapidly in our area,” Netanyahu said.

Although Cyprus is considered sympathetic towards Palestinians, its relations with Israel have grown in recent years. Anastasiades and Netanyahu enjoy particular rapport, with Anastasiades referring to the Israeli Prime Minister as his “dear friend Bibi” at least once.

Israeli natural gas development mired in contention


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

The recently-discovered massive gas reserves found off Israel’s Mediterranean coast can ensure Israel’s economic and political well-being for decades to come. International companies have invested billions of dollars in developing the gas fields and are calling on the Israeli government to pass legislation allowing them to move ahead.

The primary player in developing both the Tamar field, which has already begun producing natural gas, and the much larger Leviathan (named after the Biblical whale) is a partnership between Noble Energy in Texas and the Israeli Delek Drilling company.

We have a roadmap that the government published to solve all the regulatory issues vis a vis the natural gas market in Israel,” Yossi Abu, the CEO of Delek told The Media Line. “Now it’s in the process of a public hearing and in the next week or two we hope to have a final decision in the government with respect to natural gas resources.”

Beyond strengthening ties with Jordan and Egypt, exporting natural gas could bring closer ties between Israel and Cyprus.

“It would give muscle to what has been referred to as a strategic realignment of the eastern Mediterranean that would bring Cyprus and Israel as well as Egypt to a new triangular relationship,” Theodore Tsakiris, a professor of the geopolitics of hydrocarbon at the University of Nicosia told The Media Line. “It would be not only based on energy but will be consolidated through the establishment of this energy cooperation.”

Israel’s natural gas industry sparked controversy when Israel’s Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo said that the two companies shared control of two-thirds of Tamar and 85 percent of Leviathan are a de facto monopoly. Gilo asked the government to cancel a government deal that would allow them to retain that control in exchange for selling two smaller fields called Tanin and Karish to a third party.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu overruled Gilo’s decision saying that natural gas is an issue of national security, and Gilo quit. Thousands of Israelis have attended protests against letting the deal go through over the past weeks, saying that “tycoons” are getting rich at the Israeli public’s expense. In several cases the protests have turned violent.

Much of their anger is directed against Yitzhak Tshuva, the self-made owner of Delek, who reportedly has $4.2 billion in personal wealth. Delek officials say that cancelling the deal would be a huge mistake that could cost Israel huge sums in future investments. Israel would be seen as a country that does not keep its promises to international companies. Yossi Abu of Delek says the company has already invested six billion dollars in infrastructure and is set to shell out ten billion dollars more. The deals to supply Egypt and Jordan have already been signed and offer great earning potential.

“We hope that Israel will not miss the very good window of opportunity to use the natural gas resources in order to establish a better relationship with our neighbors – Jordan, Egypt and Cyprus,” Abu said. “We see the natural gas resources as one of the ways to get to economic peace between Israel and our neighbors.”

Abu spoke at a conference at Bar Ilan University, open to the public, where at one point anger bubbled over. On a panel was Eliezer Marom, a former commander of the Israeli navy, who has worked for several international companies since leaving the navy. He sat next to Ya’akov Amidror, a former National Security Advisor who briefly worked for Delek.

During Q and A one audience member challenged Marom.

“All of these generals like you work for international companies after leaving the army,” he said. “You then represent their interests rather than Israel’s interests.”

“Apologize right now,” Amidror broke in furiously. “You have no idea how much Marom has done for our country. Your remarks are offensive and inappropriate.”

Marom only smiled.

“I have never worked against Israel’s interests,” he told audience. “But if anyone has any good job offers for me, I’m available.”

Social protests in Israel began in 2011 when hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to protest the increasing cost of living in what were originally termed the “cottage cheese protests.” Protests against the natural gas industry have become populist with calls to break the Noble Energy –Delek monopoly, and lower the price of gas for Israeli consumers.

Changing the terms of the deal could be disastrous for Israel’s investment climate, say analysts like David Weinberg, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

“There’s been a lot of noise and discussion over the last month about the threat of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, and the damage it might do,” Weinberg told The Media Line. “No BDS movement in the world has the potential to do one-onethousandth of the damage to Israel as this debate over gas. The potential for profit and economic missteps here is far greater than the BDS movement could possibly throw at us.”

Lebanese man pleads guilty in Cyprus ammonium ‘plot’


A Lebanese-Canadian man accused of stockpiling explosives in Cyprus pleaded guilty on Monday in a case that Israel said bore the hallmarks of a failed Hezbollah plot.

Cyprus's criminal court was expected to sentence Hussein Bassam Abdallah, 26, later on Monday.

He was arrested in late May after police discovered a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, a potential explosive, in the basement of a house in the coastal city of Larnaca.

Abdallah pleaded guilty to charges of possessing explosives, conspiracy to commit a crime, aiding and abetting a terrorist organization and participation in a terrorist group, the state Cyprus News Agency reported.

Cyprus's foreign minister told Reuters earlier this month that the government believed it had thwarted a plot by Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi'ite militia hostile to Israel.

Ammonium nitrate, if mixed with other substances, can become a very powerful explosive. Authorities discovered 8.2 tonnes of the substance stored in icepacks.

Police sources said they believed the fertilizer had been accumulated at the site since 2012. Cyprus authorities have not speculated about its probable use or target, but Israel has said it was to have been used to target Israelis or Jews.

Cyprus says Hezbollah plot against Israelis or Jews likely foiled


A Hezbollah bomb plot against Israel or Jews “most probably” was foiled last month, the foreign minister of Cyprus said.

Cypriot police arrested a 26-year-old Lebanon native with a Canadian passport on May 27 after authorities discovered nearly two tons of ammonium nitrate — a fertilizer that in large quantities can be mixed with other substances to make a powerful explosive — in the basement of a house belonging to the man. The suspect remains in custody.

Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides on Monday confirmed the arrest and the discovery of the explosives, Reuters reported. Asked whether a Hezbollah bomb plot had indeed been foiled, Kasoulides said, “Most probably.”

The fertilizer was to be used by Hezbollah to create explosives to be used against Israelis or Jews on Cyprus, Cyprus authorities told Israel, according to Reuters.

An unnamed senior Israeli official told Reuters that the chemical was to be saved for future attacks.

“It does not look like there was an immediate terrorist action planned in connection with this haul,” the official told Reuters.

The suspect arrived in Cyprus in the third week of May and was staying at the two-story house in a residential suburb of the coastal town of Larnaca.

In 1988, an attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cyprus left three people dead.

In 2013, a Swedish citizen of Lebanese descent was jailed in Cyprus on charges of plotting an attack on Israeli tourists. He said he had been asked by Hezbollah to track the movements of Israeli tourists on the island, but denied he was planning any attack.

Cyprus may have foiled major attack after ammonia find


Cyprus believes it may have foiled a major explosives attack, a security source said, in seizing nearly five tons of chemical fertilizer for a planned action Israel says bears the hallmarks of the Hezbollah guerrilla group.

Authorities detained a Lebanese-Canadian in late May after finding ammonium nitrate, a potential explosive, in his basement. Initially cited as two tons, security sources told Reuters on Tuesday the amount was in fact closer to five tons.

“With those kind of quantities something bad could have happened, and it was foiled,” a security source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The suspect, a 26-year-old who arrived in Cyprus in the third week of May, was arrested in the coastal town of Larnaca on May 27 after a police raid on premises where he was staying.

Ammonium nitrate is a fertilizer but if mixed with other substances can become a very powerful explosive.

Fertilizer-based bombs remain the explosive of choice for many militant groups across the world and have been used in some of the most destructive attacks in recent years.

They were used in the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 and a year later in attacks on the HSBC bank headquarters and the British Consulate in Istanbul in which 32 people died.

JEANS AND T-SHIRT

A Reuters witness in court at an initial hearing before journalists were asked to leave saw a young man of medium build with short dark cropped hair wearing a gray t-shirt and jeans.

“He…is denying everything,” the security source said.

Authorities found the ammonium nitrate in the basement of a two-story house in a quiet suburb of the coastal town of Larnaca. The house's owner, a non-Cypriot, was being sought for questioning but not believed to be in Cyprus.

Sources say they are investigating a possible link with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which fought a war with Israel in 2006 and remains one of Israel's most active adversaries.

Cypriot authorities have said little about the case, but citing information he said he had received from Nicosia, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the fertilizer was destined for bombs.

“These were apparently meant to be ready for attacks on us,” he told reporters on Monday, referring to Israelis or Jews in Cyprus or elsewhere in Europe. He added that the explosives might also been intended for attacks against Western targets.

Cyprus is a popular holiday destination for Israelis. The island is in the EU and hosts two British military bases.

The island has little militant-related activity despite its proximity to the Middle East. Its last major security incident was a botched attack on the Israeli embassy in 1988, which killed three people.

Hezbollah agent believed to be planning attack on Israelis arrested in Cyprus


Cypriot police suspect a man arrested on Wednesday was planning an attack on Israeli interests on the island after they found almost two tonnes of ammonium nitrate in his basement, newspapers reported on Friday.

The 26-year-old man is Lebanese-born and has a Canadian passport. He was detained by police after authorities discovered the stockpile.

Authorities are investigating possible links to Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, which views Israel as its arch enemy, three Cypriot newspapers said on Friday.

Police suspect Israeli interests were the target, the Simerini, Politis and Phileleftheros newspapers said.

The unnamed individual may have a close link with the group's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nazrallah, two newspapers said.

“There is some information that he could possibly be connected with them (Hezbollah), and this is something that is under investigation,” a security source told Reuters, requesting anonymity.

Cyprus is a popular holiday destination for Israelis and the Jewish state has an embassy in Nicosia.

The suspect arrived in Cyprus in the third week of May and stayed in the coastal town of Larnaca. The ammonium nitrate — a fertilizer that can create a powerful explosive if large quantities are mixed with other substances — was found in its basement.

Police declined to comment beyond saying they are investigating all possibilities.

Cyprus has little militant-related activity despite its proximity to the Middle East. The island, which is in the EU, hosts two British military bases and receives intelligence from Western agencies.

Its last major security incident was a botched attack on the Israeli embassy in 1988, which killed three people.

In 2013 a Swedish citizen of Lebanese descent was jailed in Cyprus on charges of plotting to attack Israeli tourists.

How the Syrian-Muslim and American-Jew became best friends


I’m sitting at a pub my first night in Cyprus with a group of strangers. Peering around at potential friends I begin to talk to this hilarious guy. Syria, he tells me, that’s where I am from. He giggles as he sees the shock in my eyes. “I am not going to bomb you, I promise.” He then stuck out his hand for me to shake and smiled. We shook hands and jokingly made a “world peace” promise to each other. The rest was history. The Syrian-Muslim and the American-Jew were best friends.

This was my first encounter with anyone from anywhere I was taught to hate.

The rest of my trip to Cyprus was impacted most by these situations. Coming home I found myself so torn between my pre trip and post trip views on the conflict in the Middle East. Growing up as a Jew in America I was taught that Israel was my homeland, that all the Palestinians were wrong and that the Middle East was a scary and dangerous place that hated Americans and wanted all Jews dead. It has been a month since I have been home now and my views have become so different.

I am not writing this because I think it will change the world.  I don’t have statistics to share or a photo of a bomb going off in a helpless city. I am writing this because I do not feel as though I can sit back and do nothing as my best friend fears rockets while taking the bus in Beersheba and my Palestinian friends are threatened in the west bank daily. I am writing this because after being to Israel three times I believe I have the right to state my own unbiased opinions.

I am writing this because with my arrival date in Tel Aviv less than two months away; I am afraid.

Facebook is the worst. I sign on and scroll down my feed looking for a distraction. Suddenly I could use a distraction.  My news feed feels like a battlefield. People throwing out opinions, facts, and pictures of burnt children. Middle aged adults yelling back and forth through comments in a computer screen. Warped videos, misleading news articles and subjective opinions plague the once peaceful feed. But something is different. The colors of the flags in the articles are different; they are the “enemies”. For the first time since I installed my Facebook I have Muslim and Palestinian friends. There becomes no escape from the war. I am not just talking about the actual war. I am talking about the verbal war against brothers.

One of my most memorable moments during my semester abroad was a project I did for my Middle Eastern politics class. I was told to research the Sharia law and report back to the class with what I learned.  I neglected to find the answers on Wikipedia and instead decided to discover the answers from first hand sources. I gathered a group of Muslim students together and went around interviewing them on their views of the law and on being Muslim in general. We sat for a good half hour talking deeply about their interpretations and how it affected their personal lives. Before I knew it more Muslim students were gathering around.  In a matter of moments we were no longer strangers from conflicting countries; now we were friends laughing together and educating each other. Getting of topic, we instead discussed our similarities; the similarities between our two seemingly opposite religions.

Really made me wonder how two groups of people who don’t eat pork can’t seem to get along…

We had just spent an afternoon hiking in the rain through uncharted territory. Exhausted, we spend most the car ride home silent. He then broke the quietness with a question I was not expecting. “What religion are you?” He asked sweetly. This Muslim, body builder and I had been creating a solid friendship for the last few weeks after meeting at a soccer game. I had always assumed he knew I was Jewish so I was a little put off when he asked. Hesitantly, I responded. He then looked me in the eye, smiled, and told me, “We are cousins”.

These three short words had me reevaluating all my past beliefs. The people in these supposedly Jew hating countries didn’t hate me at all, in fact; they wanted to be friends.

It is my second week and I am Couch surfing in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. My pay-as- you go phone does not work on this side of the tiny island and I have never Couch surfed before, so you can believe my anxiety when two girlfriends and I planned a trip to stay at a Palestinians house for a couple days in the middle of nowhere.

Flash forward a few hours and, relaxed, my host and I walk around an ancient castle ahead of the rest of the group. Before I know it the conversation takes a turn and we begin talking about the conflict in Israel. He had left his Palestinian home months ago because he could not stand being in a country with so much hate. He told me that he did miss his family but did not know if he would go back because there was so much pain there. Sadly, he began to tell me that one of the main reasons he left was because his fiancé was killed by an Israeli soldier during a rally. He kisses me and thanks me for listening.

This conversation began to put things in perspective.

Before I knew it all my Palestinian friends were telling me horror stories from their own personal experiences in the country. Suddenly the country I was taught to love my whole life didn’t seem so innocent. And yet I couldn’t help but still feel the need to defend it.

 

We are not perfect people. There are evil people out there. There are people out there whose sole mission in life is to kill my people. But that does not make it my mission to do the same to them. Vengeance is not the answer. Nor is the answer to stand by and let innocent people die. There is no answer.

I am writing this because soon I will be living on a religious kibbutz in Israel. I am writing this because all my Palestinian friends want me to visit them while I am there and now I don’t know if I will be able to. I am writing this because having such dear friends on both sides makes me feel like I need to stand up for everyone. However, I am primarily writing this because I am sick of seeing so much hate comes out of the people I love.

There will never be peace without acceptance.

We can post our predisposed opinions all over the internet. We can shoot our guns and kidnap our children. We can shield our eyes to the harm. We can turn our heads and flip our T.V channels. We can hate each other and scream it. But what will it all do? There is no one completely in the right. And there will never be peace until we can speak to one another respectfully. There is terrorism on both sides. But there is also so much more. There is also love.

We can turn against our fellow man as long as we live. But then where will we be if not extinct? There are no easy answers, no automatic solutions. There are no mediated agreements or fair resolutions. We might not be able to fix the problems, stop the rockets or bring back the murdered but we can put down our weapons and instead discuss our similarities. There are so many to be learned.

All it takes is that first handshake.   

Married, but not in Israel


Located in the eastern Mediterranean, the island of Cyprus feels very familiar to Israelis, due to its warm climate, arid stretches of mountainous land filled with olive trees and beautiful beaches.

Not a bad place for a wedding, right?

Every year, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, about 20,000 Israeli couples get married outside of Israel, many of them in Cyprus. But it wasn’t the dream of a destination wedding, or of getting married in far-flung yet familiar-seeming territory that shaped the decisions.

Many simply felt they had little choice but to marry abroad: Israel’s religious authorities — the only entities authorized to perform weddings in Israel — are prohibited from marrying couples unless both partners share the same religion. To have their marriages recognized by the Ministry of the Interior for the purpose of spousal benefits, mixed-religion couples must have civil marriages abroad. 

“Civil union” has been available since 2010, but only for the very small number of couples of which both partners have “no religion” listed on their government I.D. cards. As of early this past summer, only about 80 couples have entered into an Israeli civil union, most likely because anyone born into a family with a stated religion isn’t eligible. 

Israel actually has a common-law arrangement through New Family, an organization that advocates equality for all families. Partners are issued Domestic Union Cards, which serve as legal proof of status as common-law spouses in most (though not all) institutions in Israel and many abroad. But it is not the full-fledged marriage that most Israelis and their parents have long dreamed about.  

A growing number of couples — no one knows how many — of the same religion, who could therefore marry in Israel, also fly abroad for a quick civil marriage ceremony to avoid having to deal with the notoriously bureaucratic Orthodox rabbinate, or its Muslim and Christian equivalents.

An entire industry, most notably on the island of Cyprus and in the Czech Republic, has grown up around the phenomenon of overseas weddings. And it doesn’t cater just to Israelis.

The Web site of Cyprus Wedding Celebrations, a company based near Limassol, offers information in a variety of languages, including Russian, Ukrainian, Dutch and Hebrew. Dina Martjens, the company’s founder, said in a phone interview that she annually arranges 50 to 80 weddings for overseas couples, many of them from Israel and other Middle Eastern countries.

There are thousands of couples who are eligible to be married in their home countries, “but want to avoid the Big Fat Greek Wedding so common in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon and Israel, where you have to invite the whole kibbutz,” Martjens said, referring to the lavish affairs common in many societies.

Because Cyprus issues a marriage certificate the same day as the wedding, most Israeli couples return home the day of the civil ceremony. A small number stay longer to enjoy a honeymoon by the beach or head for one of the many quaint villages that dot the countryside. 

Companies based in both Israel and Cyprus arrange flights and ground transport, book the wedding venue, and secure the wedding license and marriage certificate. They can arrange for witnesses and post-wedding fees and ensure that all the documentation gets to the right clerk. 

“Those who come just for the day get married at the municipality. They wait their turn, and the actual ceremony takes seven minutes,” Martjens said.

Wedding in Cyprus, an Israeli agency that specializes in weddings on that island and in the Czech city of Prague, serves 1,200 couples a year, roughly 60 percent of them unable to marry through the rabbinate.  

“The rest are Jews who don’t want to make a wedding via the rabbinate, and there are also a small number of Arab couples — one spouse Muslim, one Christian,” said Igal Lukianovsky, the agency’s owner.

Eighty percent of Lukianovsky’s clients marry in Cyprus because it takes less than an hour to fly there from Tel Aviv and it is relatively inexpensive. Wedding in Cyprus, for example, offers a one-day, all-inclusive wedding package starting at 520 euros ($690) and a two-night package for 570 euros ($755). A single day in Prague will cost a couple 700 euros ($928).   

Arranging a wedding in Prague is more complicated, Lukianovsky said, because Czech authorities require more documents than the Cypriot authorities.

That didn’t deter Roey Tzezan, a Haifa-based scientist, from having a civil ceremony in Prague three years ago, despite the fact that both he and his now-wife, Gali Alon, are Jewish.

“We don’t like the way the rabbinate has a monopoly over marriage and its attitude toward women and human rights in general,” Tzezan said.

The couple also opted for a Masorti/Conservative wedding in Israel, even though it wasn’t recognized by Israeli authorities.

“We’re extremely connected to the deep roots of Jewish tradition and feel it’s important to remain part of the Jewish world. At the same time, as long as the rabbinate dictates norms to the Israeli nation, we cannot consider ourselves fully part of Israel’s Jewish community.”

Uri Regev, president of Israel’s Hiddush-For Freedom of Religion and Equality, said marrying abroad isn’t a solution to the religious establishment’s “monopoly” on marriage and divorce.

“Many Jewish couples don’t realize that marrying in Cyprus doesn’t exempt them from falling into the rabbinical courts if the marriage ends in divorce. And if they’re not Jewish, dissolving the marriage is even more complicated.”

Regev said that opinion polls show that “a clear majority” of Israelis “want freedom of marriage” — the right to an Orthodox, non-Orthodox or civil marriage that will be recognized by the state.

“Israelis want the same rights people enjoy in every normal democracy,” Regev said. 

Cyprus verdict could inhibit Hezbollah operations in Europe


The conviction in Cyprus of a Hezbollah operative plotting to attack Israelis could undercut efforts by the terrorist group to carry out additional attacks outside the Middle East.

Last week's conviction was the second confirmation in recent months that Hezbollah is active on European soil. The first was when Bulgarian authorities identified the Lebanon-based terrorist group as being behind the July 2012 bombing in Burgas that left six people dead, five of them Israelis. Hezbollah also is believed to be behind recent plots against Israelis and Jews in India, Thailand and Azerbaijan.

The Cyprus conviction makes Europe likelier to list Hezbollah as a terrorist group, and that would bring new restrictions on Hezbollah that would have immediate operational consequences for the group, says Daniel Benjamin, the top counterterrorism official at the State Department in President Obama’s first term.

“If Hezbollah has to increase its operational security in Europe, if it can't use Europe to fundraise or travel through, it will be challenged to innovate to avoid being caught by European authorities,” Benjamin, now the director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College, told JTA.

The Cyprus court found Hossam Taleb Yaacoub guilty of a plot to attack Israeli tourists in the Mediterranean island nation. Yaacoub, who holds Lebanese and Swedish passports, was trained in the use of weapons and scouted sites in Europe, including a Cypriot airport.

Yaacoub acknowledged membership in Hezbollah and staking out areas frequented by Israeli tourists, but said he did not know his work was part of a plot to kill Israelis. The court, which has yet to sentence him, rejected the denial.

The evidence that led to Yaacoub’s conviction helps tip the balance toward listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, diplomats from two leading European Union member states told JTA. Hezbollah already is considered a terrorist group by the United States, Israel and several other countries.

“Our position is that we've always said that if we have proof that holds up in court, we can enter the procedure,” said Karl-Matthias Klause, the spokesman for the German Embassy in Washington. “There is a general readiness into looking into forbidding the military wing of Hezbollah.”

The other diplomat, whose country has been among those resisting such a classification, said the Cyprus conviction would make it harder not to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

“Bulgaria and Cyprus changes the equation,” said the diplomat, who insisted on anonymity. “The topic becomes one of European solidarity.”

Matthew Levitt, a former counterterrorism analyst at the FBI and a senior terrorism analyst at the Treasury Department in the George W. Bush administration, said he had just returned from meetings in Europe with security and foreign affairs officials.

“No one is debating anymore whether they are terrorists,” said Levitt, who is now a senior fellow analyzing counterterrorism at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Now it’s more, will designating them as terrorist group undermine security in Lebanon? I can have that conversation; it’s a better one than 'are they terrorists?' “

The timing is propitious, said Levitt: Hezbollah is reactivating outside the Middle East for the first time in more than a decade, partly because of pressures on its two main sponsors, Iran and Syria. Its recent plots have been more hits than misses, which Levitt attributes to Hezbollah being out of practice and because Iran is rushing the group into staging attacks.

“Now you see in Cyprus what happens when they go back to tradecraft,” Levitt said, referring to Yaacoub’s careful monitoring of the comings and goings of Israeli tourists.

U.S. and Israeli officials for months have been pressing Europe to list Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Obama repeated the call last week during his Israel visit.

“When I think about Israel’s security, I think about five Israelis who boarded a bus in Bulgaria, who were blown up because of where they came from; robbed of the ability to live, and love, and raise families,” Obama told a convention center in Jerusalem packed with cheering university students. “That’s why every country that values justice should call Hezbollah what it truly is: a terrorist organization.”

The diplomat from the country reluctant until recently to list Hezbollah as terrorist said the issue is complicated by the fact that Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government. Cutting off the group would curtail European influence in Lebanon at an especially sensitive time: Lebanon is absorbing refugees from the Syrian civil war, and there are concerns that the fighting in Syria may spill over into Lebanon.

“We have to keep in mind that Lebanon is very fragile and we have to avoid what could further destabilize it,” the diplomat said.

One possible solution touted in Europe would be to designate Hezbollah’s so-called military wing as terrorist while maintaining ties with its political operation in Lebanon.

The United States recognizes no such distinction, Levitt said, but if Europe wanted to do so, there likely would be no U.S. objection.

“They want to make the distinction for convenience, they want to have leverage, so fine,” he said.

One outcome U.S. officials should oppose, Levitt said, would be to designate only individuals with Hezbollah but not the group as a whole as terrorist.

Benjamin said sparing Hezbollah’s political wing would not be a problem as long as the ban on the military wing made it harder to raise money and run agents.

“A designation worth anything will include a ban on solicitation and fundraising in Europe, and provide the legal predicate for terrorism prosecutions,” he said.

Should Europe take those steps, it could embolden other countries to do so as well, Benjamin said.

“Hezbollah being designated by Europe will embolden other countries to step up cooperation around the world,” he said.

Cyprus court jails Hezbollah man for plotting to attack Israelis


A Cyprus court sentenced a member of Lebanon's Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah movement to four years in jail on Thursday on charges of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.

In a case bearing similarities to a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria targeting Israelis last year, the Cypriot court convicted Hossam Taleb Yaccoub on five counts of participating in a criminal organization and agreeing to commit a crime.

Yaccoub, 24 when he was arrested, was accused of tracking movements of Israeli tourists at Larnaca airport, and routes of buses transporting them.

He was detained in Cyprus two weeks before a suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas in July, an attack Sofia blamed on Hezbollah. The group denies involvement.

Yaccoub, a Swedish national of Lebanese origin, pleaded not guilty. He admitted he was a member of Hezbollah, saying he would carry out innocent errands for a handler code-named Ayman, whom he could not fully identify because he always wore a hood.

“There is no doubt these are serious crimes which could have potentially endangered Israeli citizens and targets in the Republic,” the three-bench court said during sentencing.

Yaccoub's jail term will run concurrently with his period in custody since July.

The United States, which, like Israel, considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, has said the guilty verdict on Yaccoub announced by the Cypriot court on March 21 highlighted the need for the European Union to crack down on the Lebanese group.

The EU, to which Cyprus belongs, has resisted pressure from the United States and Israel to blacklist Hezbollah, saying that doing so might destabilize Lebanon and add to regional tensions.

Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Hezbollah operative tracked Israeli plane landings in Cyprus


The Hezbollah operative on trial for plotting against Israeli tourists in Cyprus acknowledged passing on Israeli aircraft landing times to his terrorist handlers.

Hosem Taleb Yaacoub on Thursday said in court that he recorded landing times for Arkia flights between Tel Aviv and Larnaca, the New York Times reported.

Yaacoub, who has a Lebanese and a Swedish passport, had earlier in the week acknowledged membership in Hezbollah and staking out areas frequented by Israeli tourists.

On Thursday, he said he relayed the landing times to his Hezbollah handler.

Yaacoub continued to deny witting involvement in any plot to kill Israelis, saying he did not know how the information he gathered would be used.

Two weeks after Yaacoub's arrest early last July, a suicide bomber killed five Israelis and a bus driver in Bulgaria, and earlier this month, Bulgaria implicated Hezbollah in the attack.

Yaacoub acknowledged receiving military training from Hezbollah. The trial comes as the United States and Israel are increasing pressure on the European Union to ban Hezbollah as a a terrorist organization.

“The United States of America and other countries have already included Hezbollah in its list of terrorist organizations,” Peres said Feb. 21 at a memorial service for Joseph Trumpeldor, a pre-state fighter who fell in battle 93 years ago. “Now, after it has been proved that Hezbollah was behind the terror attack in Bulgaria, on European soil, and murdered innocent civilians, and as reports increase of its involvement, along with Iran, in attacks in Cyprus and Nigeria, the time has come for every country in the world, and especially the European Union, to add Hezbollah to its list of terror organizations.”

Earlier this week, Nigerian authorities arrested three men suspected of staking out U.S and Israeli targets on behalf of Iran. Hezbollah often acts as Iran's surrogate.

Israelis possibly targeted by bomb-makers in Cyprus


Cypriot authorities discovered a small amount of explosives that may have been intended for use against Israeli targets. 

A Cypriot tabloid, Alithia, reported on Thursday that agents of Cypriot security services had discovered 100 grams of explosives at the port in Limassol, which were intended to target cruise ships carrying Israelis. The explosives, according to the report, came in the form of a pink powder.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an expert on terrorism with ties to the Cypriot government told JTA that “unless there are other packages,” the small amount found could suggest the charge was meant to target one person in a car bomb or other small explosives devices.   

“The find may not be linked to Israelis at all, but a way for the police to send a message that they know about a pending hit,” the source said.

Last month, Israel asked security forces around the world, including in Cyprus and Greece, to increase protection for Israeli tourists ahead of the High Holy Days.

In July, Cypriot police arrested a Swedish passport-holder of Lebanese descent who was allegedly tracking the movement of Israeli tourists on the island.

Man held in Cyprus for planning attack on Israelis


A Swedish citizen of Lebanese origin suspected of planning to attack Israeli targets in Cyprus was ordered held over by a court there.

The Cypriot court on Monday ordered the man, 24, detained after noting the similarities between his actions and those of the Bulgarian suicide bomber who killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian bus driver in an attack on an Israeli tour bus at the Burgas airport.

The man in Cyprus had been arrested earlier this month, accused of tracking the movements of Jewish tourists, Reuters reported. He reportedly is being held on suspicion of espionage and conspiring to commit a crime.

Cypriot Justice Minister Loucas Louca said in a news conference Monday that the investigation will continue through Friday. He said the suspect belongs to an organization not on the European Union list of known terrorist groups, but did not name the group.

He was arrested two days after arriving in Cyprus from London, and was found with a list of tourist spots frequented by Israelis, according to reports.

Ayalon: Israel will defend Greek oil drilling in Cyprus


Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in Greece that Israel will defend Greek oil drilling in Cyprus.

Asked at a news briefing Tuesday what Israel’s reaction is to a threat by Turkey regarding drilling in Cyprus, Ayalon said, “If anyone tries to challenge these drillings, we will meet those challenges.”

Ayalon, the first foreign official to visit Greece since the formation of its new government, added that he did not think that Turkey would challenge any drilling in the southeast Mediterranean. Turkey said last month it would send naval forces to protect its drilling rights.

The briefing was held at the residence of Israeli Ambassador to Greece Arie Mekel. Ayalon is on an official visit to Greece.

Greece’s deputy foreign minister, Dimitris Dollis, stressed in his meeting with Ayalon that Israel-Greece relations upgraded in the past year would continue and be strengthened in the near future. Dollis said the ties would not be affected by the change of government in Greece.

“These are not meetings that are held just so we can get together,” he said. “They are meetings that will help us to jointly promote the issues we are dealing with and, naturally, provide an institutional framework—and thus continuity—for this conference.”

The two officials agreed to convene in Greece members of the Jewish and Greek diasporas from countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, France and Britain. The meeting is planned to take place in the spring in Salonika.

Ayalon and Dollis discussed cooperation among Israel, Greece and Cyprus concerning the subject of natural gas. A trilateral memorandum of understanding on the issue, as well as the management of water resources, has been drafted and is due to be signed soon.

The deputy foreign ministers noted that Greece and Israel have common strategic interests in energy and energy security, and immense prospects for collaboration in that area.

On Wednesday, Ayalon met with the new Greek foreign minister, Stavros Dimas, and defense minister, Dimitris Avramopoulos, to discuss strengthening relations between the two countries.

Next week, the Greek minister for the environment, energy and climate change, Giorgos Papakonstantinou, will visit Israel.

Erdogan: Turkish warships will escort aid vessels to Gaza


Turkey said on Thursday it would escort aid ships to Gaza and would not allow a repetition of last year’s Israeli raid that killed nine Turks, setting the stage for a potential naval confrontation with its former ally.

Raising the stakes in Turkey’s row with Israel over its refusal to apologize for the killings, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Al Jazeera television that Turkey had taken steps to stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting natural resources in the Mediterranean.

“Turkish warships, in the first place, are authorized to protect our ships that carry humanitarian aid to Gaza,” Erdogan said in the interview, broadcast by Al Jazeera with an Arabic translation.

“From now on, we will not let these ships to be attacked by Israel, as what happened with the Freedom Flotilla,” Erdogan said.

Referring to Erdogan’s comments, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said: “This is a statement well-worth not commenting on.”

Relations between Turkey and Israel, two close U.S. allies in the region, have soured since Israeli forces boarded the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara aid ship in May 2010.

Ankara downgraded ties and vowed to boost naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean in the escalating row. Israel says it acted legally against ships that tried to breach its blockade on the Palestinian enclave which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas group.

Israel has said it will enforce the blockade, which it says is needed to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said earlier on Thursday that Israel and Turkey will eventually mend fences rather than become foes, describing their unprecedented dispute over Gaza as “spilled milk.”

Noting that an inquiry commissioned by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had vindicated the blockade, Barak predicted that wider Middle East upheaval would help bring Israel back together with its Muslim ex-ally.

“Ultimately this wave will pass. We recognize reality. They recognize reality,” Barak told Israel Radio. “We are the two countries that are most important to the West in the region … I am certain that we can overcome these (disagreements).”

But Erdogan appeared to raise the heat, saying NATO member Turkey has taken steps to patrol the Mediterranean, and vowed to stop the Jewish state from exploiting natural resources in the area.

“You know that Israel has begun to declare that it has the right to act in exclusive economic areas in the Mediterranean,” Erdogan said, apparently in reference to Israeli plans to exploit offshore gas reserves found in areas that are also claimed by Lebanon.

“You will see that it will not be the owner of this right, because Turkey, as a guarantor of the Turkish republic of north Cyprus, has taken steps in the area, and it will be decisive and holding fast to the right to monitor international waters in the east Mediterranean,” he said.

Turkey says oil deals granted by the Greek Cypriot government, which represents the island in the European Union, are illegal as the borders of Cyprus remain undetermined while Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots pursue reunification talks.

Turkey’s plan to flex its naval muscles may fuel Western unease about Turkey’s reliability as a NATO partner and its penchant for actions designed to court popularity in the Muslim world.

Asked whether Israel might yet say sorry for the seizure of the Turkish vessel, Barak said: “Look, it’s spilled milk. It’s not important right now.”

In addition to an apology, NATO-member Turkey has demanded that Israel end the Gaza blockade. Israel says the closure is needed to keep arms from reaching Palestinian guerrillas by sea.

“A normalization or improvement in Turkey-Israel relationships shouldn’t be expected unless they apologize, pay a compensation and lift an embargo on Gaza,” Erdogan said on Thursday.

Reporting by Omar Fahmy; Aditional reporting Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Karolina Tagaris

Israel offers aid to Cyprus following killer blast


Israel offered aid to Cyprus in the wake of an explosion at a naval base that killed at least 12 people.

The accident early Monday morning occurred after arms seized in 2009 from an Iranian shipment to Syria caught fire. More than 60 were injured in the blast, which also destroyed a power plant and leveled homes.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou in offering assistance Monday that Israel shares in his country’s grief.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke Monday with Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, instructed all relevant officials to immediately dispatch medical and rescue equipment to the disaster zone, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu told Christofias that Israel recalls and appreciates the immediate assistance that Cyprus extended during the Carmel wildfire and noted the friendly state of bilateral relations. Christofias thanked Netanyahu and said this was an expression of the genuine friendship between Cyprus and Israel, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.