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Cyprus Internet Directory [ As Mid-East peace talks start in the US, Israeli FM is in Cyprus ]

As Mid-East peace talks start in the US, Israeli FM is in Cyprus

Stefanos Evripidou

ISRAELI FOREIGN Minister Avigdor Lieberman is skipping the latest Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Washington, to visit Cyprus instead and strengthen ties with Israel’s ‘new ally’ in the region.

Lieberman was due on the island last night, ahead of a meeting today with Cypriot counterpart, Marcos Kyprianou, and another tomorrow with opposition DISY leader Nicos Anastassiades. He leaves Saturday evening.

This is Lieberman’s second official visit to Cyprus in nine months, after last January’s visit. Speculation is rife that the Israeli delegation will discuss a number of key issues with their Cypriot counterparts, including security in the Middle East, the discovery of natural gas and the question of humanitarian aid reaching Gaza.

One local paper, Alithia, yesterday suggested that Lieberman was here to discuss an underwater pipeline which could transport natural gas from Israel to Cyprus, and then on to Greece and the rest of southeast Europe.

According to Israeli paper, Haaretz, during his recent visit to Greece, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested to Greek PM George Papandreou that Greece buy natural gas from Israel, which could be transported to the country via a pipeline to be built.

Last month, the Cyprus Mail reported that US energy company Noble Energy confirmed its estimates that the undersea Israeli gas prospect, Leviathan, contains some 16 trillion cubic feet of total gross hydrocarbon resources with a 50 per cent probability of success.

Noble expects to start drilling at the plot soon. Leviathan is located west of the Tamar plot, where Noble discovered 8.4 trillion cubic metres of natural gas- the largest gas discovery in 2009. More gas was discovered in Dalit, closer to the coast.

The company has also signed an exploration deal with Cyprus for its own ‘Block 12’ or ‘Cyprus A’ area, lying some 45km west of the 80,000 acre Leviathan. Noble says it has mapped over 30 trillion cubic feet of growth potential in both Israeli and Cypriot waters.

The island has signed agreements with Lebanon and Egypt to mark undersea boundaries for oil exploration but has yet to reach any conclusive agreement with Israel. Turkey has frequently protested over Cyprus’ offshore oil and gas exploration bid and accused in 2008 of “provocations” when Turkish warships approached Norwegian survey ships off southern Cyprus.

Today’s meeting between Kyprianou and Lieberman may well touch upon the question of boundaries in the gas-hopeful region.

The seemingly closer ties between Israel and Cyprus is seen as a direct result of souring relations between Israel and Turkey, following Israel’s Gaza offensive in 2008 and attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last May which resulted in Israeli commandoes killing nine Turkish activists.

Despite past support for numerous private initiatives to deliver aid direct to Gaza via the sea, Cyprus refused the organisers of the May flotilla access to its ports. More recently, it effectively put a stop to a boat full of women activists from leaving Lebanon for Gaza via Cyprus by again refusing access. This change of heart from a traditionally Palestinian-friendly country has not gone unnoticed by Israel.

Kyprianou and Lieberman are also reported to have built up a friendship and even text each other. Known as a straight-talking, rather undiplomatic diplomat, Lieberman chose to shun the start of yesterday’s Washington Middle East peace talks to come to the island instead. Given the recent rift with Turkey, the Russian-speaking Israeli foreign minister is believed to see Greece and Cyprus as Israel’s new allies.

While diplomatic ties between Turkey and Israel may have cooled somewhat, their military relationship has not let go of its past so easy, with Israel reported to have delivered the last four of ten Heron unmanned aerial vehicles to Turkey last month. According to Haaretz, Turkey agreed in 2004 to buy ten Heron UAVs for more than $180 million from Israeli companies.

According to a Cyprus Foreign Ministry announcement yesterday, Lieberman and Kyprianou will discuss bilateral relations, Israel-EU relations, the Middle East peace process and the proposal by Cyprus and Greece to send humanitarian aid to Gaza via Cyprus.

(Source: Cyprus Mail)
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2008 Please contact Cyprus Mail for the copyright terms of this article.

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