Cyprus Says Detained Ship Breached Iran Arms Export Ban

A ship detained off Cyprus has breached a U.N. ban on Iranian arms exports, Cyprus' foreign minister said Tuesday.

But Markos Kyprianou refused to specify what had been found on the Cypriot-flagged Monchegorsk, which U.S. officials suspect was delivering arms to Hamas militants in Gaza.

Kyprianou said Cyprus will decide what to do with the cargo once the search of all containers aboard the ship is completed.

Cyprus inspected the Monchegorsk twice after it arrived Jan. 29 under suspicion of ferrying weapons from Iran to Hamas fighters in Gaza. It remains anchored off the port of Limassol under tight security.

Returning the shipment to Iran has been ruled out, but Kyprianou said possible options include confiscating and storing it in Cyprus or another country.

Last week, Cyprus applied for and received guidance from the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee on whether the cargo breached sanctions barring Iran from sending arms abroad.

The committee was established in December 2006 to oversee a Security Council-imposed embargo on Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, an export ban on arms and related material, and individual targeted sanctions including travel bans and an assets freeze.

Iran has denied accusations it is trying to build nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear program is geared toward generating electricity.

Kyprianou said Cyprus would "turn to friends" for help if authorities decide against storing the Monchegorsk's cargo on the island.

Britain's Minister for Europe Caroline Flint, who is visiting Cyprus, said her country is ready to help.

"My understanding is that Cypriot authorities are looking into what the situation is, what is the specifications on these weapons that are there," Flint said after talks with Kyprianou.

"And I think when we have a better report of that, the U.K. and I'm sure other countries will want to help in whatever way we can to make sure that they are disposed of effectively."

The U.S. 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, which continued to Port Said, Egypt, and then to Cyprus.

U.S. officials had said the ship was headed for Syria.

Israel launched a 22-day offensive late last month on Hamas-controlled Gaza to try to end militant rocket fire on Israelis and to halt the smuggling of arms into the Palestinian territory.