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Israelis investing in or purchasing property in the Turkish-occupied sector of Cyprus may be engaging in an illegal transaction, Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis warned this week.
One of the key reasons for her visit to Israel was to ask Israel to strengthen a previously issued travel advisory that also has been issued by 40 governments, which cautions visitors to the Mediterranean island against purchasing real estate in the Turkish-occupied sector, Kozakou-Marcoullis told The Jerusalem Post.
"But we want it [the advisory] further strengthened, more detailed and pointing to the legal violations involved and the property rights of the owner," she said.
The property issue has been a growing concern for several years, especially recently when Turkish Cypriots began to illegally sell property belonging to Greek Cypriots who were forced to leave in 1974, she noted.
Until 2004, most of the properties abandoned by Greek Cypriots were distributed to Turkish Cypriots and mainland Turks. However, the Turks then started selling those properties, which still legally belonged to the Greeks. The vast majority of properties were sold to British buyers, but some recent cases involved investments by Israeli companies in the occupied area and Israeli individuals have been purchasing property illegally, said Kozakou-Marcoullis.
A model case of an illegal purchase was brought before the British and Cypriot Courts and is now in the Court of the European Communities.
The case is that of Meletios Apostolides, who was displaced from the occupied village of Lapithos. He filed suit against a British couple who built a holiday home on the land he was forced to abandon when the Turks invaded his village in 1974. The Nicosia District Court ruled in November 2004 that the British couple must demolish the house, return the property to the rightful owner and pay damages.
Details of the case are published on the Web site of Cyprus4Properties Limited, a member of the Cyprus Real Estate Agents Association, which also warns potential buyers of the risk factors involved in acquisitions in Turkish-occupied Cyprus.
Among those possibly at risk, according to Kozakou-Marcoullis, is the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, which owns property in Turkish-occupied Cyprus.
The judgments of any member state are enforced by the rest of the EU, said Kozakou-Marcoullis, but the Cyprus4Properties site is even more explicit, stating that in the case of non-compliance with the Cyprus court decision, the couple is subject to arrest and their property assets in the UK are subject to confiscation.
During a diplomatic posting in the US, Kozakou-Marcoullis developed close relations with a number of major Jewish organizations engaged in recovering Jewish property that was misappropriated by the Nazis and Communists, as well as with former US Undersecretary of State Stuart Eisenstadt, who was a leading American negotiator for Holocaust reparations. This, she said, gave her vast knowledge about property rights and the recovery of property.
Because of their own experiences in this regard, Jews in Israel and around the world should have a strong understanding and empathy for dispossessed Greek Cypriots, Kozakou-Marcoullis suggested.
Her arrival in Israel coincided with the slightly delayed celebration of the 60th anniversary of the United Nations resolution on the partition of Palestine. At the time the resolution was passed, Cyprus was still under colonial rule and was a place of internment for many Jewish refugees who had tried to enter Palestine but were turned back by the British.
"We feel very close to the Jewish people because part of our history is connected to your history during a bad period," said Kozakou-Marcoullis.
She had read a lot about that era she said and was greatly moved to learn of the extent to which the Cypriot people had genuinely embraced the Jewish refugees. "Despite our own predicament while under colonial rule, we helped Jewish people to find a way to freedom and to Israel," she said.
Although Cyprus is only a 40-minute flight away, this was her first visit to the country though her husband, a medical doctor with strong ties to Hadassah and Tel Hashomer medical centers, has been to Israel many times.
She was very glad to have the opportunity to meet again with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, whom she admires greatly and whom she had met on two previous occasions. The first was when Livni was in Cyprus on a private visit, and the second when they were both in New York attending a meeting of women foreign ministers.
"She's an outstanding leader, and very able in defending the interests of Israel," said Kozakou-Marcoullis.
In the course of their meeting in Jerusalem, Kozakou-Marcoullis, noted that Cyprus maintains good relations with all Arab countries. She said that fact could be helpful in the peace process and offered to facilitate meetings in Cyprus, which supports the moderate forces among the Palestinians, and will be supporting them financially during the upcoming donors' conference.
On the other hand, Israel has good relations with Turkey, which might be useful in settling the misappropriated property issue.
The trouble, according to Kozakou-Marcoullis, is that the Cyprus question is being dealt with primarily by the Turkish military. She believes the issue of misappropriated property could be among the reasons that Turkey has not yet succeeded in becoming a member of the EU.
Cyprus, she said, has supported Turkey's accession to the EU "because we want to see Turkey being transformed but the Turkish military doesn't want it because they would lose power."
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