1 of 10
Cypriot Defense Ministry, HO, Associated Press
In this photo provided the Cypriot Defense Ministry, a small vessel loaded with 353 people who are believed to be refugees fleeing Syria lies around 50 nautical miles southwest of Cyprus' coast on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. A cruise ship picked up all 353 people from the boat after it sent out a distress signal amid bad weather, and is making for Cyprus' main port of Limassol.

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Hundreds of migrants, thought to be refugees from Syria, were cleared Friday from a cruise ship by members of an elite Cypriot police squad.

Police spokeswoman Nicoletta Tyrimou told the Associated Press that nearly 300 people were removed from the ship in the pre-dawn operation after hours of negotiations aimed at getting them to leave on their own failed. They had insisted on being taken to Italy.

A group of 62 individuals had left Thursday of their own accord after the cruise ship docked at the east Mediterranean island's main port in Limassol.

Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou told state broadcaster RIK, that police had to "gently" intervene and pressure the remaining holdouts "without the use of violence."

The 345 people, including 52 children, will remain at a reception center near the capital Nicosia where they will be housed, fed and offered medical attention until authorities determine what will happen to them.

The migrants were on the cruise ship after they were rescued from their small vessel following a distress call early Thursday amid rough seas.

Tyrimou said the vessel appeared to have set sail from the Syria port of Latakia with Syrian nationals fleeing the bloody civil war there.

It's unclear what the future holds for the migrants.

Civil Defense Chief Andreas Frantzis said some at the reception center appear gripped by a sense of unease at seeing their initial plans upended.

Justice Minister Nicolaou said authorities will look at each case individually to determine whether some will seek asylum in Cyprus or another European country, or seek to join relatives elsewhere.