Cyprus says Turkey denied COVID-19 supply flight airspace entry

Nicosia (AFP) –


Cyprus said Wednesday a flight it had chartered from China carrying 36 tonnes of COVID-19 medical supplies was diverted towards Moscow after Turkey denied it entry into its airspace.

"The pilot changed route and is heading to Moscow airport in Russia to land and refuel" as the plane did not have enough fuel to take a longer flight path, Cypriot Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos told the official Cyprus News Agency.

Ankara enforces an embargo on Cypriot air and shipping traffic.

The eastern Mediterranean island is divided between the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member state which controls its southern two-thirds, and the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus recognised only by Ankara.

Karousos said the Cypriot foreign ministry had been informed of the aircraft incident and would issue a formal diplomatic protest.

Nicosia has often protested at Ankara for preventing ships sailing under the Cyprus flag from entering its ports and Cypriot aircraft from entering Turkish airspace.

The flight from China was chartered by the Republic of Cyprus to deliver medical supplies needed in the fight against the novel coronavirus, including protective masks, shoe covers and disposable surgical gowns.

The plane is expected to arrive in Cyprus later on Wednesday evening, at least six hours delayed.

Cyprus has enforced strict measures against the coronavirus since the island's first infections were reported in March, and its hospitals have avoided being overwhelmed.

The Republic of Cyprus has recorded 905 cases and 17 deaths from COVID-19, while the TRNC has declared 108 cases and four deaths.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded the northern third of the island in response to an Athens-backed coup aimed at unifying it with Greece.

Turkey does not recognise or have formal diplomatic relations with the government of Cyprus, and their ties have been further strained over vast gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

United Nations-backed talks on reunifying the island as a bizonal, bi-communal federation collapsed in July 2017 and have not resumed.