NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Israel on Thursday dispatched two water-dropping aircraft to help battle a large wildfire that has scorched at least 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) of forest in the foothills of the Pentadaktylos mountain range in the breakaway north of ethnically divided Cyprus.
The two Israeli aircraft joined another two planes and a helicopter that the Cyprus government sent to fight the blaze following a request from breakaway Turkish Cypriot authorities made through the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, or UNFICYP, on the island nation.
Along with the two Air Tractor AT-802 firefighting planes, the Israeli delegation includes 17 emergency personnel who will assist in the firefighting efforts. The delegation, with various firefighting equipment, was flown to Cyprus aboard an Israeli military plane.
“The Israel Defense Forces will continue to assist on behalf of the State of Israel in any event that may be required, and will contribute its experience and capabilities,” the military said.
Aircraft from Turkey, the UN and two British military bases on the island are also helping in firefighting efforts.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and Turkish Cypriots reject the internationally recognized Cypriot government’s authority over the island’s northern third.
According to the Israel Fire and Rescue Services, the aircraft departed for Cyprus after the mission was approved by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev.
Lapid was in Turkey on Thursday for talks focused on security. The trip comes amid warming ties between Jerusalem and Ankara following years of frosty relations that saw Turkey emerge as one of Israel’s most vocal critics internationally.
Cyprus government deputy spokeswoman Niovi Parissinou told state-run Cyprus News Agency that government authorities are “always ready and willing” to answer the call for assistance. Despite the island’s complex politics, this kind of “fire diplomacy” illustrates a willingness for the rival sides to work together on dealing with natural disasters.
Cyprus Forestry Department Chief Charalambos Alexandrou told CNA that the two Israeli aircraft would first touch down at Larnaca airport in the south before starting airdrops over the fire-affected areas in the north.
Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar flew over the affected area to inspect the breadth of damage Thursday. He told Turkish Cypriot BRT TV that the blaze would hopefully be brought completely under control with help from Greek Cypriot and Israeli aircraft.
Tatar said the blaze threatened three villages, but residents using tractors to clear brush around their homes prevented the fire’s spread. The fire apparently started when a car outside a village home went up in flames.