Cyprus/ Turkey– Turkey on Tuesday offered aircraft to help Cyprus battle a huge forest fire which is raging out of control and has killed two firefighters.
The offer is seen as a rare outreach of ‘disaster diplomacy’ by Turkey which doesn’t recognize ethnically divided Cyprus as a state. It comes amid ongoing talks that aim to reunify the island.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said he accepts the offer for assistance as long as it allows for the Turkish aircraft to be directed by the Cypriot government alongside aircraft from other assisting nations.
Some 20 Greek, Israeli, French, Italian and British aircraft are already involved in battling the massive fire in difficult terrain in the mountains southwest of the capital Nicosia.
It is one of Cyprus’ largest forest fires ever, having scorched around 15 square kilometers (5.8 sq. miles) of trees and countryside. Almost 500 firefighters, soldiers and volunteers are trying to contain it amid a heat wave with temperatures surging to over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
Anastasiades said Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci conveyed Turkey’s offer of help since Ankara has no direct lines of communication with the Cypriot government.
A Turkish invasion in the immediate aftermath of a 1974 coup aiming to unite Cyprus with Greece split the island into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains more than 35,000 troops in the north.
Andreas Christou, a spokesman for Cyprus’ forestry department, told The Associated Press that crews are focusing firefighting efforts on a front that’s moving toward the villages of Kannavia and Agia Eirini some 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of Nicosia.
He said crews have managed to partially contain other fronts that threatened huge swaths of pine forest on the foothills of the Troodos mountain range.
The two firefighters were killed when their vehicle slid down a 20-meter (22-yard) gully on Monday. A third firefighter remains in critical condition with head injuries suffered in a separate accident Sunday when his truck overturned.
Cyprus had requested the additional aircraft and some 80 tons of fire-suppressing material from its European Union partners.
A Cypriot government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t allowed to publicly discuss the matter, confirmed that that Cyprus has also asked Russia for assistance.