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Iran admits downing jetliner by mistake

Iran admits downing jetliner by mistake
A forensic investigator at the scene of a plane crash as bodies of the victims are collected, in Shahedshahr, Iran, Jan. 8, 2020.
TEHRAN, JAN 11 (AP) | Publish Date: 1/11/2020 11:05:31 AM IST

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard on Saturday acknowledged that it accidentally shot down the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed earlier this week, killing all 176 aboard, after the government had repeatedly denied Western accusations that it was responsible.

The plane was shot down early Wednesday, hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two military bases housing US troops in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Iranian Gen Qassem Soleimani in an American airstrike in Baghdad. No one was wounded in the attack on the bases.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, expressed his “deep sympathy” to the families of the victims and called on the armed forces to “pursue probable shortcomings and guilt in the painful incident.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy issued a statement saying the crash investigation should continue and the “perpetrators” should be brought to justice. He said Iran should compensate victims’ families, and he requested “official apologies through diplomatic channels.”

Iran’s acknowledgement of responsibility for the crash was likely to inflame public sentiment against authorities after Iranians had rallied around their leaders in the wake of Soleimani’s killing.

The majority of the plane crash victims were Iranians or Iranian-Canadians. Iranian officials had repeatedly ruled out a missile strike, dismissing such allegations as Western propaganda that officials said was offensive to the victims.

The crash came just weeks after authorities quashed nationwide protests ignited by a hike in gasoline prices. Iran has been in the grip of a severe economic crisis since President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani blamed the shootdown of the plane in part on “threats and bullying” by the United States after the killing of Soleimani. He expressed condolences to families of the victims, and he called for a “full investigation” and the prosecution of those responsible.

“A sad day,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster. Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”

The jetliner, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines, went down on the outskirts of Tehran shortly after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport.

The US and Canada, citing intelligence, said they believed Iran shot down the aircraft with a surface-to-air missile, a conclusion supported by videos verified by The Associated Press.

The plane, en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials. The Canadian government had earlier lowered the nation’s death toll from 63.

Iran’s Guard accepts responsibility for plane shootdown

An Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander says his unit accepts “full responsibility” for the accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian passenger plane.
In an address broadcast by state TV on Saturday, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh says that when he learned about the downing of the plane, which killed all 176 passengers on board, “I wished I were dead.” Iran’s armed forces say they mistook the passenger plane for a hostile target in the tense aftermath of Iran’s ballistic missile attack on two military bases in Iraq housing US troops. A military statement carried by state media said the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target.” The military was at its “highest level of readiness,” it said, amid the heightened tensions with the United States.
“In such a condition, because of human error and in a unintentional way, the flight was hit,” the military said. It apologized and said it would upgrade its systems to prevent future tragedies.
Those responsible for the strike on the plane would be prosecuted, the statement added.
 

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