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The divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus braces for an approaching oil spill from a power plant in Syria that threatens a pristine coastal part of the separatist north.

Environmental officials in Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus (TRNC) – internationally recognized only by Ankara – said 20,000 tonnes of fuel oil had spilled from the Syrian plant.

“This is a complete disaster for the marine ecosystem,” the head of the northern chamber of environmental engineers, Cemaliye Özverel Ekinci, told local news agency TAK.

“This problem is not just a problem which concerns northern Cyprus,” said Ekinci. “We have to act with the south.”

Syria’s electricity minister told pro-government newspaper Al-Watan on Monday that the size of the leak ranged from two to four tons of fuel.

He added that a committee had been formed to investigate the cause.

The head of the northern deep diving center, Erol Adalier, said the oil slick was approaching the Karpaz peninsula in the northeast of the island, a wilderness of sandy beaches and green hills.

He added that the oil had reached as far as 20 miles from the coast on Tuesday morning and was approaching hour by hour.

Local officials said Turkey had sent teams to assess the situation and prepare a response.

“Even if it tangentially overtakes us, it will affect Turkey,” Northern Tourism and Environment Minister Fikri Ataoğlu said.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974.

The government of the Republic of Cyprus in the south, a member of the EU, said on Tuesday it had located no signs of an oil spill in areas under its control and said it was ready to help the northern authorities to fight against any pollution.

“Unfortunately… we have not received any information or response from the authorities of the illegal regime, and we therefore remain vigilant,” Environment Minister Costas Kadis told the Cypriot news agency.

The government of Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus depends almost exclusively on financial and other assistance from Ankara.

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