An errant missile struck northern Cyprus early on Monday, missing Nicosia and crashing on a mountainside in what authorities described as a spillover from strikes between Israel and Syria.
The explosion occurred around 1am in the region of Vouno, some 20 kms northeast of Nicosia, with the impact starting a fire and heard for miles around.
There were no casualties.
The object is believed to be a stray Russian-made S-200 missile launched by the Syrian air defence against a massive Israeli airstrike overnight.
Five parts have so far been found in three villages north of Nicosia after a deafening crash in the early hours on Monday morning.
Turkish Cypriot ‘foreign minister’ Kudret Ozersay said that preliminary examinations show that the inscription on the missile is the same as that on Russian S-200 missiles that fell on Turkey’s Gaziantep in July 2018.
“The first assessment is that a Russian-made missile, part of the air defence system, which was part of the air defence system that took place last night in the face of an air strike against Syria, completed its range and fell into our country after it missed,” Ozersay said in a social media post.
He said the explosion was thought to have occurred before impact because there were no craters.
“The pieces that fell to several different points prove that the missile exploded in the air before it crashed,” he said.
The five parts of the missile have so far been found in the villages of Vouno, Dikomo and Kornokypos. One part was found in a yard of a house in Dikomo, where three homes were evacuated.
Two parts were found in Kornokypos and two belonging to the main part of the missile were found in Vouno.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci linked the incident to military operations in the Middle East but further investigations were underway by the military to establish what it was, he said.
“It is evident it is not something stemming from our soil … It is one of the bad sides of the war in the region falling into our country,” he said.
The incident was a wake-up call to islanders, said UniteCyprusNow, a pro-unity group.
“The illusion that a permanent division on land … will protect us from crises has been shattered with the missile that landed on our head last night,” it said.
Israeli warplanes fired missiles targeting Syrian military positions in Homs and the Damascus outskirts overnight in an attack that killed at least four civilians and wounded another 21.
If verified, it would be the first time that Cyprus has been caught in the crosshairs of military operations in the Middle East despite its proximity to the region.
Greek Cypriot military analyst Andreas Pentaras said the debris suggested it was a Russian-made S-200 missile.
“An assessment from the pictures made public shows the base of its wings. It has Russian writing on it, so it suggests it is Russian made. Syria uses Russian-made missiles, so a not-so-safe assessment would be it was … an S-200 (missile),” Pentaras, a retired army general, told Sigma TV in Cyprus.
Jamming technology could have diverted the missile, he said.
The foreign ministry said definitive conclusions could not be drawn at present.
“Cypriot authorities are in touch with the authorities of neighbouring and other friendly countries with the aim of collecting further leads and information.”
Sources said the government was in touch with Israel, the UK, the USA, and Russia in a bid to clarify the circumstances of the incident. It is understood that Russian officials have visited the crash site.
Cypriot authorities are treating the incident as isolated and accidental.
Government sources said the island’s flight information region had not been used by Israel during the attacks. Israeli aircraft taking part were tracked by radar, which however cannot trace an object with the size and speed of the missile. It is estimated that the missile reached Cyprus in under two minutes from the time it was launched.
The National Guard’s surface to air missile systems, Tor-M1 and Buk, can track and intercept missiles but they are not deployed during peacetime.
Turkey dispatched a team of experts to the area to determine whether there was any danger from toxic materials.
The experts said they did not find anything that could be dangerous for human health.
Residents told Cypriot media they saw a light in the sky then three loud explosions were heard for miles around.
Rachael Gillett, a Nicosia resident who lives near the green line in the old city about 12 miles away, heard the blast.
“I was on the phone to my brother in New Zealand when I suddenly heard — and felt — this big boom and the windows rattling,” she told the Cyprus Mail. “I rushed out of the house but all then fell quiet. My only thought was an earthquake, but there was nothing else. I couldn’t believe it when I woke up this morning and discovered what I had really heard.”
The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (Unficyp) said on Monday it was in contact with the Turkish Cypriot side regarding the explosion but urged all not to jump to conclusions before an investigation takes place.
Unficyp spokesperson Aleem Siddique told the Cyprus News Agency that they are in contact with the Turkish Cypriot side regarding the “security incident”.
“An investigation by the Turkish Cypriot side is currently underway and it is important that this be allowed to proceed before jumping to any conclusions,” Siddique added.
The government meanwhile offered to provide Turkish Cypriot authorities with any assistance, technical or otherwise, regarding the object that crashed in the north of the island, the director of the president’s media office Victoras Papadopoulos said.
“Assistance has been offered by the Republic of Cyprus to the Turkish Cypriots,” Papadopoulos told reporters.
The offer was relayed by foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides via the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus Elizabeth Spehar.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci thanked the government for its offer, but politely declined.