Cypriot police say officers from an elite squad have boarded a cruise ship and cleared it of hundreds of rescued migrants, apparently Syrian refugees, who had refused to disembark and insisted on being taken to Italy.

Police spokeswoman Nicoletta Tyrimou says a number of negotiators peacefully removed nearly 300 people from the ship in the pre-dawn operation Friday after hours of negotiations aimed at getting them to leave on their own failed.

In all, 345 people, including 52 children, will remain at a reception center near the capital Nicosia until authorities determine what will happen to them.

The Cypriot cruise ship had rescued the people from a small vessel that put out a distress call early Thursday amid rough seas off Cyprus, southwestern coastal town of Paphos.