Syria funneling chemical weapons through Cyprus, reports allege

JERUSALEM — Cyprus serves as a transit point for a clandestine Syrian effort to produce missiles armed with chemical warheads, intelligence sources and officials here said last week.

The intelligence sources, including those from Western agencies, said Syria has received at least two shipments of material for the manufacture of chemical weapons from the Greek Cypriot port of Limassol.

The shipments have arrived from Russia and Cuba, the sources said, with the Russian consignment reported in December of 1995. Officials say other exporters to Cyprus might include several Western European countries.

The sources said the CIA has been tracking the shipments, and U.S. officials have quietly asked the Greek Cypriot government to end the consignments. But the Cypriots have reportedly denied the allegations.

Western intelligence sources say Cyprus has increased cooperation with Syria and its terrorist allies over the past year, particularly since Israel signed a military cooperation accord with Turkey.

The new cooperation includes a joint defense accord between Syria and Greece, which has included Cyprus in the pact.

Officials of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus have called on Washington to stop the Cyprus-Syrian cooperation. But they said so far, nothing has been done.

"We draw their attention to this problem," said Resat Catlar, director-general of North Cyprus' Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Defense. "For some reason they are not taking us seriously."

U.S. officials have expressed concern over the use of Cyprus as a base for terrorism and drug-money laundering, but they have never made any official accusations. In March, a State Department report on narcotics control suggested that Cyprus may be used to help transfer sensitive cargo.

"Cyprus customs is considered an income-generating rather than a law enforcement agency," the report said.