16:11 GMT28 January 2020
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    U.S. Seeks Russia’s Explanation on Syria-Bound Weapons Ship

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    The U.S. Department of State said it was seeking explanations from Moscow over a ship that probably headed from Russia with a cargo of weapons to Syria.

    The U.S. Department of State said it was seeking explanations from Moscow over a ship that probably headed from Russia with a cargo of weapons to Syria.

    The cargo ship MV Chariot, flying the St. Vincent and Grenadines flag, was en route from St. Petersburg to the Syrian port of Latakia when it was briefly held and inspected in the Cypriot port of Larnaka on suspicion that it carried weapons.

    “We have, as you know, asked for clarification from the Russian Federation. This was a subject of discussion with the Embassy. It was also raised by Deputy Secretary Burns when he was in Moscow,” Department of State Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.

    “Our understanding is that the Russian side continues to look into who was responsible and what happened precisely,” she went on.

    The spokeswoman said the U.S. is unable to confirm at the moment that the ship carried weapons and breached the existing sanctions on Syria, imposed after months of deadly unrest against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

    “We have not been able to independently verify it. We have the reports from the Cypriots who saw some of the cargo, but we don’t - we haven’t been able to independently verify,” Nuland said.

    Cypriot media said the ship was carrying from 35 to 60 tons of ammunition and explosives meant for the Syrian Defense Ministry. The Greek Cypriot Foreign Ministry said in a statement customs officers boarded the ship for a document check and tried to examine the cargo, but could not open four containers it was stored in because of “confined space.”

    The Russian Foreign Ministry said the ship carried a “dangerous cargo,” but did not elaborate. According to the documents, the cargo sender was the Russian state arms trader Rosoboronexport.

    The vessel was allowed to leave the port in about an hour, after the ship crew announced it would change its destination and not go to Syria. Turkish media said a day later that the ship docked in the Syrian port of Tartus.

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