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Northern Cyprus to restrict property sales after rumours of mass Jewish purchases

Media campaign has alleged that thousands of Israelis and Jewish Europeans had purchased land in the region, though Turkey's foreign minister denies this is the case
The Kyrenia mountain range north of the divided Cypriot capital, with the flags of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) painted on the mountain overlooking Nicosia (Roy ISSA/AFP)
The Kyrenia mountain range, north of the divided Cypriot capital, with the flags of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) painted on the mountain overlooking Nicosia (Roy ISSA/AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Northern Cyprus will restrict property sales to foreigners after a Turkish media campaign alleged that thousands of Israeli and Jewish people were buying properties in the region. 

The move came after a series of social media posts published by Sabahattin Ismail, a journalist who was an adviser for the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' (TRNC) former president Rauf Denktas.

Since October and the onset of Israel's war on Gaza, Ismail has published sale records and registries of companies that he alleges shows that thousands of Jewish people from Israel and European countries have purchased housing and plots of land.

Some Turkish newspapers have alleged, without citing any source, that 35,000 Jewish people purchased property in Northern Cyprus, reaching 2,500 hectares of land. Northern Cyprus only has  a population of 380,000. 

MEE couldn’t independently verify these numbers. However, officials in Turkey have suggested that they are vastly inflated.

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Ersin Tatar, the current head of the TRNC administration, who is treated as the head of the Turkish community on the island by the western powers, said he was worried by the allegations and his security advisers were looking into them. 

“We have some steps and measures that will be taken against [these sales],” Tatar said on Friday. 

Currently, foreigners have the right to buy real estate in Northern Cyprus and can purchase five decares of land without a house.

Tatar said new restrictions will be put in place in response to the allegations that Israelis and Jewish Europeans were buying up land in the region.

"A new regulation will be made regarding this five-decare right," he said.

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 after a failed coup attempted to unite the island with Greece. Since then, Cyprus has been divided between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus in the south and the Turkish republic, recognised only by Ankara.

Israel has close ties with the Republic of Cyprus, but as with Turkey its relations with Muslim-majority Northern Cyprus are more complicated.

Last month, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan disputed the reports that thousands of Israelis and Jewish people were buying up property in Northern Cyprus during a meeting at Turkey's parliament last month. 

He said only 200 Israeli citizens had made real estate purchase applications in Northern Cyprus since 2000. 

“Israeli citizens rank 12th among all countries. In the last five years alone, a total of 15,000 applications for real estate purchases in the TRNC were from other countries, not Israel,” he said.

“England has been in first place since 2000, and Iran has been in first place in the last five years. As you know, real estate sales to third country citizens in TRNC can be made only through the approval of the council of ministers,” he added, using the name for the Northern Cyprus cabinet.

TRNC Interior Minister Dursun Oguz told the Northern Cyprus parliament in November that the government was specifically preparing two laws to regulate the sale of properties to foreign citizens.

Decisions from the Council of Ministers could allow foreigners to purchase property from Northern Cypriots without the sale being recorded on the registry. This, Oguz told local media last month, creates "a security vulnerability for the country”.

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Oguz added that a law would be brought to parliament to register sales that weren’t put in the official records. 

Northern Cyprus has a small Jewish community.

After the 7 October Hamas-led attack on Israel and Israeli war on Gaza, there has reportedly been a rise in hostility towards members of Northern Cyprus' Jewish community.

Cypriot media reported that Rabbi Chaim Hillel Azimov, who settled in Northern Cyprus with his wife around 2006, left for the United States last month. They were said to have left in response to the property sales allegations and unsubstantiated rumours that the rabbi worked with Israeli intelligence.

Azimov, whose five children were born in Northern Cyprus, was the leader of the Hasidic Jewish Chabad community in the region. 

Azimov used his rented villa in Kyrenia as both a home and a place of worship.

Following the escalation of the war and the increasing reactions to Israel's massacre of Palestinian civilians, the villa was placed under police surveillance for protection, according to a report by Kibrisli Gazetesi. 

Azimov's villa had a sign outside it saying in Hebrew that the house was the "address of all Jews in Northern Cyprus". However, authorities decided the sign was unauthorised following a complaint. 

“Kyrenia municipality police, accompanied by the police, covered the sign with a green tarpaulin,” Kibrisli Gazetesi reported.

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