Israel helps fight wildfires in Turkish-backed northern Cyprus

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Israel on Thursday sent two water-dropping planes to help fight a large wildfire that burned at least 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) of forest in the foothills of the Pentadaktylos mountain range in the escaped to ethnically divided northern Cyprus.

The two Israeli planes joined two other planes and a helicopter that the Cypriot government sent to fight the fire following a request by the dissident Turkish Cypriot authorities through the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. peace in Cyprus, or UNFICYP, on the island nation.

Along with the two Air Tractor AT-802 firefighting aircraft, the Israeli delegation includes 17 emergency personnel who will assist in firefighting efforts. The delegation, with various firefighting equipment, was flown to Cyprus on an Israeli military plane.

“The Israel Defense Forces will continue to assist on behalf of the State of Israel in any case that may be required, and will contribute their experience and capabilities,” the military said.

Planes from Turkey, the UN and two British military bases on the island are also helping with firefighting efforts.

Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and Turkish Cypriots reject the internationally recognized authority of the Cypriot government over the northern third of the island.

According to the Israel Fire and Rescue Services, the plane left for Cyprus after the mission was approved by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev.

Lapid was in Turkey on Thursday for security-focused talks. The trip comes as ties between Jerusalem and Ankara heat up after years of frosty relations that have seen Turkey emerge as one of Israel’s most vocal critics internationally.

Illustrative: A firefighting plane tries to put out a brush fire near Petah Tikva on May 1, 2018. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Cypriot government deputy spokeswoman Niovi Parissinou told the Cyprus News Agency that government authorities are “always ready and willing” to respond to the call for help. Despite the island’s complex politics, this type of “fire diplomacy” illustrates the willingness of rival parties to work together to deal with natural disasters.

The head of the Cyprus Forest Department, Charalambos Alexandrou, told CNA that the two Israeli planes would first land at Larnaca airport in the south before starting parachute drops over areas affected by the fires in the north.

Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar flew over the affected area on Thursday to inspect the extent of the damage. He told Turkish Cypriot TV channel BRT that the fire would hopefully be brought under complete control with the help of Greek Cypriot and Israeli planes.

Tatar said the fire threatened three villages, but residents using tractors to clear brush around their homes prevented the fire from spreading. The blaze apparently started when a car outside a house in the village caught fire.

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