Saturday, January 31, 2009

Livni to Cypriot FM: Confiscate weapons from Iranian ship

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke to her Cypriot counterpart Markos Kyprianou by phone and requested that he act toward confiscating weapons aboard the ship that were allegedly on their way from Iran to Syria.

Livni emphasized that the passage of the weapons is in contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747 that prohibits trade in weapons with Iran because of its ongoing nuclear program.

The saga of a ship suspected of carrying arms from Iran to Gaza grew more complicated Saturday as Cypriot authorities searched the ship, then backed away from previous assertions that it was violating United Nations resolutions.

Authorities will now conduct a second search, the Cypriot foreign minister said.

Suspicions that the Cypriot-flagged container ship Monchegorsk was ferrying arms from Iran to the militant Palestinian organization Hamas had been raised by the United States. The U.S. military stopped the vessel in the Red Sea last week but could not legally detain it or seize its cargo.

The ship continued on to Port Said, Egypt, then headed for Cyprus, where it arrived Thursday. It remains anchored off the island nation's southern port of Limassol under tight marine police security.

Kyprianou said Saturday that a first inspection of the Monchegorsk was complete. He said authorities were still trying to determine whether the ship's cargo contravened United Nations resolutions.

On Friday, Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias had said without qualification that the ship had violated U.N. resolutions.

The foreign minister refused Saturday to divulge any details about the ship's cargo.

"This is a very serious matter concerning the Cyprus Republic's responsibilities as a member of the United Nations and the European Union, but also its relations with the international community," Kyprianou told state radio.

He urged patience for a few days, saying disclosure of information would
hinder the government's handling of the issue.

A European diplomatic source said Thursday that the Cypriot authorities had detained what he called an Iranian arms ship en route to Syria.

The move apparently came after Israel and the United States requested that Cyprus stop the ship, based on suspicion that the boat was carrying a large amount of weaponry, including artillery rounds and rockets that Israel believes are destined for either Hezbollah or Hamas.

The vessel left the Persian Gulf a few weeks ago and reached about 60 miles from Cyprus on Wednesday.

Israel launched a 22-day offensive late last month on Hamas-controlled Gaza to try to end rocket fire on Israeli civilians and halt arms smuggling that has enabled Hamas to threaten southern Israel.



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