Two Qatar Air Force fighter jets and a cargo aircraft were heading to Crete on Tuesday in the first sign of military operations by Qatar so far to help enforce a no—fly zone over Libya, officials said.
The planes made an unscheduled stop at the island’s Larnaca airport, and government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said in a statement that the two Mirage jets and one cargo aircraft would depart after refuelling.
A Cyprus Civil Aviation Department official told The Associated Press that high winds forced the two Mirage 2000 and one C—17 cargo aircraft to land for refuelling. The aircraft were enroute to a U.S. military base on the Greek island Crete, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with policy.
Cypriot authorities initially refused the aircraft’s request to land, but later granted permission after the pilots declared a fuel emergency per international regulations, Mr. Stefanou said.
RAF Akrotiri, one of two British military bases on Cyprus’ southern coast, is hosting VC—10, RAF E3D and Sentinel surveillance aircraft which also provide refuelling capability to help enforce the U.N.—sanctioned no—fly zone.
Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias has said the government does not condone any military action in Libya and is not taking part. He also expressed disapproval to the British government over use of the base for military action, but acknowledged Britain does not need permission from Cyprus.
The head of the Gulf’s main political bloc on Monday emphasized the commitment of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to the international military coalition striking Libya but stressed the mission seeks only to protect civilians. The UAE has said it is providing only humanitarian aid.
The reaffirmation of the Gulf states’ backing for the multinational force followed criticism by the Arab League’s chief over the heavy missile barrages by U.S. and European forces against Libyan air defences, tanks and other targets.
Qatari officials have said its planes will take part in enforcing the no—fly zone but have not provided specifics on their contribution to the effort.