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Page last updated at 18:02 GMT, Friday, 13 February 2009

Cyprus unloads 'Gaza arms' ship

The Monchegrosk
The future of the Monchegorsk, now anchored off Cyprus, remains unclear

Cyprus has begun to unload a detained ship allegedly carrying weapons-related material, which the government says was in "clear" breach of UN sanctions.

The government said the unidentified cargo would be stored on the island.

The containers were being transported to a naval base along the coast under heavy police guard, state radio said.

Israel says the ship, the Monchegorsk, was carrying Iranian arms destined for the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, in Gaza. Iran denies the accusation.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Ghasghavi stated on Wednesday: "The ship was not taking arms and weapons [to Gaza]."

Cypriot authorities had inquired about the ship's cargo and "if it was carrying weapons things would have been clear", he added.

'No danger'

The Monchegorsk has been anchored off the southern port of Limassol since 29 January, when it was detained reportedly at the request of the US.

On Friday, the government said in a statement that it had decided to unload the Cypriot-flagged vessel's cargo and "keep it in Cyprus".

The Republic of Cyprus has decided to unload the material on the ship Monchegorsk and keep it on Cyprus
Cypriot government statement

"The Republic of Cyprus has already informed the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee of its decision," it added.

"Unloading the cargo does not involve any danger."

Later, Defence Minister Costas Papacostas told the Associated Press: "There are no weapons. There is material that could be used in the manufacture of munitions."

On Tuesday, Cypriot Foreign Minister Marcos Kyprianou said the UN committee had ruled that the Monchegorsk was in "clear" breach of UN sanctions, but he did not specify what had been found on board or name the cargo's destination.

A spokesman for Japan's UN mission, the Security Council chair this month, said the committee had been in contact with the Cypriot government, but would not confirm whether the ship had breached any UN sanctions.

Israel has long accused Iran of arming militants in Gaza, a claim Tehran denies even though it says it offers moral support to Hamas.

In December, Israel launched a 22-day offensive against Hamas in Gaza, attempting to end rocket attacks by militants on its territory.

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