Cyprus unloads weapons from Iranian ship detained en route to Gaza

Cypriot-flagged Monchegorsk stopped by US last month for breaching UN ban on Iranian arms exports; Teheran denies ship contains weapons.

Cypriot authorities started on Friday to unload weapons from a detained ship which breached a UN ban on Iranian arms exports. A government statement said Friday the cargo, which it did not identify, will be stored on the island. State CyBC radio said containers are being transported to a naval base under police and military guard. The Cypriot-flagged Monchegorsk has anchored off the port of Limassol since it arrived Jan. 29 under suspicion from US officials of ferrying weapons from Iran to Hamas terrorists in Gaza. The US military said it found artillery shells and other arms aboard the ship after stopping it last month in the Red Sea. Iran denies the ship contains weapons. Earlier on Wednesday, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman denied reports that the ship was carrying Iranian weapons destined for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said that Cypriot authorities had inquired about the ship's cargo but accusations that weapons were on board were baseless. Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou said Tuesday that the ship had breached a UN ban on Iranian arms exports but refused to specify what had been found on the Cypriot-flagged Monchegorsk. Cyprus inspected the Monchegorsk twice after it arrived Jan. 29. The US military stopped the ship last month in the Red Sea and said it found artillery shells and other arms on board, but it could not legally detain the ship.