An object which hit occupied northern Cyprus overnight appears to have been an errant Russian-made missile which exploded in the air before it hit the ground, Turkish Cypriot authorities said on Monday.
“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 air strike against Syria, completed its range and fell into our country after it missed,” ‘foreign minister’ Kudret Ozersay said on Twitter.
It is believed the missile exploded before it struck the ground as there was no crater and debris was found at a number of locations, Ozersay added.
“The pieces that fell to several different points prove that the missile exploded in the air before it crashed,” he said.
The object hit a mountainside north of the capital Nicosia near the village of Vouno in the Kyrenia district, at around 1 am on Monday. setting off a fire that was contained at around 3.40 am.
There were no injuries, but debris from the object were found at Dikomo, also in the Kyrenia district and at Kornokipos in the Famagusta district.
Officials said the missile could have been a spillover of an Israeli strike on Syria and a counter response.
An Israeli air strike was underway against Syria at the time. Syrian state media said the Syrian air defences had fired in response to the Israeli attack.
Cyprus lies west of Syria. Israeli warplanes fired missiles targeting Syrian military positions in Homs – around 310 kilometres (193 miles) from Nicosia – and the Damascus outskirts overnight in an attack that killed at least four civilians and wounded another 21.
The freak incident 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.
Initially, there was speculation the object was either a missile or UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle).
Residents told Cypriot media they saw a light in the sky then three loud explosions were heard for miles around. Vouno is a small village in the Pendadaktylos mountain range. Some homes were evacuated.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci who visited the area linked the explosion to military operations in the Middle East.
“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.
A 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.
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 think-tank told Reuters.
Those missiles were designed to explode in mid-air if they don’t hit a target, he said.