Russia informed the government of Cyprus, Lebanon, and Turkey regarding its plan to conduct naval exercises for three days in the Mediterranean Sea. The Russian Navy started its drills on Friday midnight.
Ghazi Zeaiter, Minister of Public Works and Transport in Lebanon confirmed that they received a notice from Russia regarding the naval exercises. In a statement to Al Mayadeen TV channel, Zeaiter said, “We, Cyprus, and Turkey were informed of the fact Russian maneuvers will begin today (Friday) at midnight.”
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Lebanon’s Ministry of Public Works and Transport created an emergency group “to ensure the continuity of takeoffs and landings at the airport, taking into account the maximum degree of public safety.”
Lebanese authorities at the Rafik Hariri International Airport said Russia’s three-day naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea will have a direct impact in its airspace. According to then, the Russian maneuvers would bring its air traffic to and from Beirut airports to a complete halt.
Lebanon will negotiate with authorities in Cyprus to provide a temporary air route. However, Lebanese government said even if the Cypriots would agree to its request, “most airlines will suspend their flights to and from Lebanon due to logistical factors.”
Middle East Airlines (MEA), the national carrier of Lebanon has limited flight route from the country because it does not fly over Israel. Other airlines are also avoiding to fly over Syria due to the ongoing conflict in the country.
In an interview with Reuters, MEA Chairman Mohamad al-Hout said they can divert their flights over Cyprus. Currently, they don’t have plans to cancel flights.
He said, “The decision should be taken by the Lebanese government. They are working on opening an air corridor above Cyprus, and if it doesn’t work, we will stick to the current lines. Until now there is no decision to suspend flights.”
Russia sent its notice regarding its planned naval exercises on November 20, according to the international governmental database of notices to airmen (NOTAM). This is not the first time for the Russian government to carry out naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea.
Lebanon rejects Russia’s request to divert civilian flights
Lebanon rejected the request of Russia to divert flights in certain areas to conduct its naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, according to Zeaiter.
“The Russians have asked the Directorate of Civil Aviation authority in Lebanon to divert the routes of planes in a specific area over the international waters where they are planning to conduct the exercise. This (disruption would have been) for three days but we refused because it is against our interests,” he said.
Russia air strikes in Syria
Russia’s Defense Ministry declined to comment on the issue. The Russian government has been carrying out military operations in Syria for almost two months.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it would increase the number of its fighter jets that would bomb the jihadists to 69. Moscow already conducted 394 sorties in just three days, hitting 731 rebel targets across Syria. Pres. Vladimir Putin ordered airstrikes in Raqqa, Aleppo, and Idlib.