A missile has struck Cyprus, skimming the densely populated capital, Nicosia, and crashing on a mountainside in what officials said could have been a spillover of an Israeli strike on Syria and a counter response.
The impact occurred about 1am (10pm GMT) in the region of Tashkent, also known as Vouno, 12 miles (20km) north-east of Nicosia, with the explosion setting hills ablaze and heard for miles around. There were no casualties.
An Israeli airstrike was under way against Syria at the time. Syrian state media said the Syrian air defences had fired in response to the Israeli attack.
“The first assessment is that a Russian-made missile … which was part of the air defence system that took place last night in the face of an airstrike against Syria, completed its range and fell into our country after it missed,” the Turkish Cypriot foreign minister, Kudret Ozersay, said in a post on Facebook.
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.
Cyprus lies west of Syria. Israeli warplanes fired missiles targeting Syrian military positions in Homs – about 193 miles (310 miles) from Nicosia – and the Damascus outskirts overnight in an attack that killed at least four civilians and wounded another 21.
The incident would be the first time Cyprus has been caught in the crosshairs of military operations in the Middle East.
A Greek Cypriot military analyst, Andreas Pentaras, said the debris suggested it was a Russian-made S-200 missile, which can have a range of up to 248 miles (400km).
“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. Another analyst said that, should the missile hypothesis prove to be correct, it could have been faulty.
“Right now we can’t be absolute but from the pictures and the inscriptions it appears to be an S-200,” analyst Zenonas Tziarras of the Geopolitical Cyprus thinktank told Reuters.
Those missiles were designed to explode in mid-air if they don’t hit a target, he said.
Residents told Cypriot media they saw a light in the sky then three loud explosions were heard for miles around. Tashkent is a small village in the foothills of a mountain range rimming northern Cyprus. Authorities evacuated some homes.