Turkish Cypriots to open trade office in Israel

Northern Cyprus is opening a trade office in Israel, according to a prominent Israeli attorney, an indication of growing international acceptance of the isolated breakaway state. The office will open shortly in the Tel Aviv area, said lawyer Dov Weissglass, who was a close adviser to former prime minister Ariel Sharon. It will have a small number of staffers and deal with economic and commercial issues, according to Weissglass, who said he helped set the office up. He would not elaborate. The Turkish-occupied northern third of the island of Cyprus broke away from the Greek south and declared independence in 1983 but has been recognized only by Turkey itself. The southern Republic of Cyprus is a member of the United Nations and joined the European Union in 2004. Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said the opening of the trade office did not mean Israel was recognizing the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. "Israel operates according to the decisions of the UN and the international community, and like them, Israel doesn't recognize northern Cyprus as an independent unit. If such an office opens, it won't receive any diplomatic recognition," he said. Mekel would not say if the Israeli government had officially approved opening the trade office to open, but said the government would find it difficult to bar such a facility it was not tied to an enemy state. A Turkish Cypriot official said the establishment of the Tel Aviv office comes on the heels of similar operations in Italy and Qatar. "Since we cannot establish diplomatic relations with other countries at this moment, we bypass this and open trade offices instead," Mustafa Guclu said. The Israeli move follows other signs of creeping recognition of northern Cyprus. Guclu said more overseas trade offices are expected to open in the "coming months" and several months ago Syria began operating a regular ferry service to the north. Though those countries insist the moves are not steps toward diplomatic recognition, they have angered the Cyprus government over fears they could lead to the island's permanent partition. Israel's closest regional ally is Turkey, the Turkish Cypriots' patron, and those ties might have played a role in the move. Recent years have also seen growing Israeli tourism to northern Cyprus and Israeli business interests in the breakaway state.