Cyprus searches ship accused by US of carrying Iranian weapons to Hamas
Cyprus officials today admitted that they were carrying out a search of a ship that is suspected of carrying weapons from Iran for Hamas in Gaza. The ship, which had earlier docked in Port Said but was ordered by Egyptian authorities to leave, had apparently been forced by the US Navy to sail to the port of Limassol in Cyprus yesterday.
It seems that the Americans forced the ship into the port because it was registered in Cyprus and flying the Cyprus flag. This apparently allows the Cyprus authorities to legally board and search the ship.
The container ship was stopped by U.S. forces in the Red Sea last week with a suspected Iranian arms shipment, according to AP, but was allowed to continue its voyage because American forces had no authority to search it. Press reports indicated that the ship was the MT Monchegorsk, operated by a Russian company and headed from Iran to Syria.
President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias announced that an investigation is underway, and said: “It is a problem for us that we are forced to accept a ship under the Cypriot flag which is carrying whatever is carrying, which is contrary or in conflict with Security Council resolutions”, President Christofias noted.
Although the President refrained from stating what the cargo was, and noted it was best to avoid media noise, it has been reported the Cypriot officials found weapons, including heavy artillery rockets, and training materials on how to use them.
During the recent fighting in Gaza, Hamas used Iranian rocket artillery to hit large Israeli cities far beyond the range of the Palestinian's home-made Qassam rockets. The longer range is possible because the rockets from Iran are larger, more advanced, and of better quality (they are produced in advanced arms factories, not in small underground facilities as the Qassams).