Egypt has withdrawn diplomatic relations with Cyprus after the gun battle at Larnaca Airport on Sunday (19 February) which left 15 Egyptian commandos dead and 14 wounded.
Egypt has withdrawn diplomatic relations with Cyprus after the gun battle at Larnaca Airport on Sunday (19 February) which left 15 Egyptian commandos dead and 14 wounded. Egyptian diplomatic representatives on the island have been instructed to return to Cairo.
SYNOPSIS: The night-time battle began when Egyptian troops who'd landed in a Hercules transport plane drove up to the Cyprus Airways aircraft and started firing tracer bullets at the front door in an attempt to free 11 hostages and four crew members on board.
The plane had been hijacked by two gunmen after they'd killed Egyptian journalist Youssef Sibai on Friday. It flew back to the island after refuelling in Djibouti when several countries had refused to take in the hijackers.
Egyptian authorities said they'd flown in the commandos to show that terrorism did not work, but their raid ended in failure.
A Greek-Cypriot soldier threw a hand grenade into the Egyptian Land Rover killing three commandos. Firing broke out between Cypriots and Egyptians involving mortars, machine guns and rifles. The battle raged for almost an hour, when it became clear that the Egyptian had come off worst. A number of them took cover in another aircraft parked on the runway.
Eventually all the captured Egyptian commandos were released by the Cypriots. On Monday 14 wounded men along with 43 soldiers who escaped unhurt flew home with the bodies of the 15 who died. The Egyptian Cabinet praised the force for what it called their great role in the face of abnormal circumstances when it was suddenly attacked without expectation. After the fighting had died down ambulances drove onto the runway to remove the wounded. The nose of the plane had been riddled with bullets and fuel started to leak out onto the tarmac but none of the crew was hurt.
The captain of the Cyprus Airways plane, English man Bill Cox, said it was a miracle that his aircraft hadn't blown up killing everyone on board. But the Egyptian Hercules was less fortunate. A Cypriot shell hit the plane and it burst into flames, leaving several bodies strewn on the runway.
The hijackers surrendered when the fighting began, and the Cyprus authorities said they would stand trial for the murder of Mr. Sibai. Cyprus has refused a demand for their extradition to Egypt. The Cyprus government said negotiations to free the hostages and crew were just being concluded when the Egyptian commandos attacked.
It was alleged that Egypt had told the Cypriots only that the Minister of Information would be flying in to observe the negotiations.