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Cyprus eyes East Med firefighting hub

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Cyprus wants to create an east Mediterranean firefighting hub with neighbours Greece and Israel to tackle huge summer wildfires that could overwhelm any single country.

Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides made the proposal during a virtual meeting of the three countries’ top diplomats and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for closer cooperation on energy, the economy, climate action, emergency preparedness, and counterterrorism.

Nicosia is also willing to host a gathering of ministers to discuss ways of protecting the east Mediterranean Sea through the development of environmentally friendly ports and other coastline infrastructure.

In recent years, Cyprus, Greece, and Israel have often assisted each other by sending firefighting teams, gear, and aircraft to help combat massive wildfires.

The Cypriot proposal would seek to streamline and speed up the dispatching of such assistance.

Cyprus suffered its worst wildfire last year, killing four Egyptian farm labourers.

Blinken joined Kasoulides, and their Greek and Israeli counterparts, Nikos Dendias and Yair Lapid, to demonstrate Washington’s support for the three-way cooperation pact that Cyprus, Greece, and Israel have developed over recent years.

In a joint statement, the ministers said they decided “to intensify cooperation in energy, economy, climate action, emergency preparedness, and counterterrorism, contributing to resilience, energy security, and interconnectivity in the region.”

Aircraft

Cyprus will have ten firefighting aircraft at its disposal this year.

It was discussed Monday evening when President Nicos Anastasiades convened a meeting on combating fires during the tinder-dry summer season.

The government is also in negotiation with Jordan to acquire aerial means.

President Anastasiades said the meeting discussed ways to enhance the framework for preventing fires and being better prepared.

After the meeting, Government Spokesman Marios Pelekanos said authorities discussed the capabilities in aerial means, the use of technology, the collaboration and cooperation of all services, staff adequacy, the upgrade of the rural fire stations and the role of the local authorities and volunteers.

He said that the Agriculture Ministry had made all preparations, so Cyprus had sufficient aerial capability by mid-May.