The crash heightened international pressure on Iran after months of friction with US.

 

DUBAI: Iran said on Saturday its military had mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian plane killing all 176 aboard, saying air defences were fired in error while on alert in the tense aftermath of Iranian missile strikes on US targets in Iraq.

Iran had denied for days after Wednesday’s crash that it brought down the plane, although a top Revolutionary Guards commander said on Saturday that he had informed the authorities about the unintentional missile strike the same day it happened. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who until Saturday had kept silent about the crash, said information should be made public, while top officials and the military issued apologies.

But state television suggested revealing the truth about what happened might be used by “enemies of Iran”, usually a reference to the United States and Israel.

The crash heightened international pressure on Iran after months of friction with the United States and tit-for-tat attacks. A US drone strike had killed a top Iranian military commander in Iraq on Jan. 3, prompting Tehran to fire at US targets on Wednesday.

Canada, which had 57 citizens on board, and the United States had both said they believed an Iranian missile brought down the aircraft, although they said it was probably an error.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wrote on Twitter, promising that those behind the incident would be prosecuted. “My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families.”

Experts said mounting international scrutiny would have made it all but impossible to hide signs of a missile strike in any investigation and Iran may have felt a U-turn was better than battling rising criticism abroad and growing grief and anger at home, as many victims were Iranians with dual nationality.

In Twitter messages, angry Iranians asked why the plane was allowed to take off with tensions in Iran so high. The plane came down when Tehran was alert for US reprisals in the hours after Iran launched rockets at US troops in Iraqi bases.

But state television suggested revealing the truth about what happened might be used by “enemies of Iran”, usually a reference to the United States and Israel.

The crash heightened international pressure on Iran after months of friction with the United States and tit-for-tat attacks. A US drone strike had killed a top Iranian military commander in Iraq on 3 Jan, prompting Tehran to fire at US targets on Wednesday. Canada, which had 57 citizens on board, and the United States had both said they believed an Iranian missile brought down the aircraft, although they said it was probably an error.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wrote on Twitter, promising that those behind the incident would be prosecuted. ”

Experts said mounting international scrutiny would have made it all but impossible to hide signs of a missile strike in any investigation and Iran may have felt a U-turn was better than battling rising criticism abroad and growing grief and anger at home, as many victims were Iranians with dual nationality. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, in a rare admission of error, apologised to the nation and accepted full responsibility. Senior Guards commander Amirali Hajizadeh said he had informed Iran’s authorities on Wednesday about the unintentional strike, a comment that raised questions about why officials had publicly denied it for so long.

Speaking on state television, he said he wished “I could die” when he heard the news.

Responding to Iran’s announcement on Saturday, Ukraine demanded an official apology and compensation. Canadian PM  Justin Trudeau called for “a complete and thorough investigation” with Iran’s full cooperation.reuters

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