Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Netanyahu in historic Cyprus visit

Cyprus president Dimitris Christofias, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu(AP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has begun a historic visit to Cyprus, declaring the two countries' warming ties a "natural relationship".

The visit - the first ever by an Israeli leader to the nearby island nation - was a testimony to warming ties that have emerged from political and economic turmoil, as well as new economic prospects.

Netanyahu's office said the one-day visit "was designed to strengthen the improving ties between the two nations." The two sides will discuss co-operation in energy matters, agriculture, health and maritime research, and sign a disaster relief and a search and rescue agreement, it said.

"It's a natural relationship for us," Netanyahu said at the start of his meeting with Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias.

Although Cyprus is only a 50-minute flight away from Tel Aviv, ties between the two have long been chilly.

Nicosia backed the Palestinians in their quest for an independent state and looked on warily as Israel built military and trade relations with regional powerhouse Turkey, which does not recognise Cyprus as a sovereign state and has occupied its north since 1974.

But Israel's relations with Turkey have deteriorated dramatically, while Cyprus has been looking to cement ties with neighbours as a bulwark against Ankara's growing regional influence.

Another potential bridge between Israel and Cyprus is the discovery of huge offshore natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean. The same US company, Noble Energy, is leading the exploration efforts in both countries.

Turkey, however, has threatened the finds. It opposes any Greek Cypriot oil and gas search that denies breakaway Turkish Cypriots in the north of the divided island what it contends is a rightful claim to gas wealth. And it has dismissed a Cypriot-Israeli deal demarcating their maritime borders as null and void.

Last year, Ankara dispatched a warship-escorted research vessel to look for fuel in waters off Cyprus' southern coast.

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