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Seeking a new role in the region

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After six months of Israeli airstrikes and ground operations in Gaza, countering the deadly October 7 Hamas attacks, EU leaders finally called for a cease-fire, in a show of unanimity.

The Palestinians in Gaza have been suffering from starvation, deprived of medical supplies and the harsh rule of Hamas militants. Hospitals are constantly being bombed by Israel, schools will never be able to open.

Yet, after several months of diplomatic shuttling, the Cypriot ‘Amalthia’ initiative to open a maritime aid corridor to Gaza has finally taken shape, with the first supply of food relief already reaching the Palestinians, and a second shipment ready to go. Air drops continue from Jordan, and efforts have not stopped to open more land border crossings from Egypt.

Cyprus is not new to humanitarian relief efforts, especially in the immediate vicinity of the eastern Mediterranean.

The Cypriot government has helped evacuate foreign national on several occasions, from Lebanon several times, from Sudan last year, and helped avert catastrophic consequences by ending the siege of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002.

And all this through diplomatic channels, enhanced in recent years by the trilateral initiatives with neighbouring countries, albeit focused primarily on energy issues.

Yet, there is a far better channel of communications with Nicosia and neighbouring capitals, that was non-existent a decade ago. A level of trust has been gained and this warm and friendly cooperation must not be allowed to diminish.

For decades, the U.S. looked at Israel as its sole true ally in the area, against Iranian and other aggression.

On the other hand, western powers continue to tolerate Turkey’s antics, and continue to pump billions of euros, supposedly for Ankara to handle the flow of thousands of refugees from Syria. Turkey is part of the problem in Syria, that has spilled over to other countries, with Lebanon carrying the heaviest burden of all, and yet it is not supported with the generous funds blindly given to Turkey.

Ankara has also been playing both sides in the Russia-Ukraine war, and no one seems to be bothered with that, not even NATO, whose expansion to the Scandinavian nations Turkey initially blocked, as a political maneuver to see what else it could get from its European and U.S. financiers.

Cyprus has wrongly avoided investing in major defence purchases, and at present has no air support, apart from a handful of helicopters and fire-fighting single-props, and in the sea, where billions are in jeopardy, there is no naval presence to safeguard the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone.

Simply hosting an office or a command that will oversee relief efforts to Gaza should not be enough. Cyprus needs to be vigilant and remain proactive in all matters related to the immediate vicinity. And in order to do that, Nicosia needs to regain the full support of its EU partners and all major western powers, lost over the years by the greed of the previous administration to sell golden passports and tarnish the island’s reputation.

The EU rarely speaks in unity, when it comes to foreign policy. But Cyprus can remain at the forefront and spearhead initiatives, shuttle diplomacy and enhance trilateral and multilateral cooperation.

It just needs a common front at home and the right people to head such actions, but not yet another opportunity to appoint friends and relatives who helped in the president’s elections campaign.