Iranian missile shot down Ukrainian passenger plane, say US and Iraq

According to a report in Newsweek, an Iranian anti-aircraft missile slammed into a Ukrainian civilian plane, causing the deaths of all 176 people on board.

By World Israel News and AP

Amid a British government announcement that it is investigating “very concerning” reports about the crash of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran, Newsweek published a report on Thursday indicating that the plane was in fact hit by an Iranian missile.

The Newsweek report is based on statements made by an Iraqi intelligence official, a senior U.S. intelligence official, and a Pentagon official.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office says “the reports we have seen are very concerning and we are urgently looking into them.”

The Ukrainian International Airlines plane crashed Wednesday soon after takeoff from Tehran’s airport, killing all 176 people on board. Ukrainian officials say they have several working theories, including a missile strike.

The crash came just a few hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack against Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops amid a confrontation with Washington over it killing an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general in a drone strike last week.

Johnson spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday and called for “a full, credible and transparent investigation into what happened,” Downing Street said.

France’s military spokesman says that its fighter jets are continuing to make sorties over Iraq and Syria despite the international coalition’s suspension in activities.

Col. Frederic Barbry said on Thursday that France’s Rafales, based in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, made 14 sorties this week. Their main job is support, reconnaissance and protection for ground forces.

Like other coalition members, activities of France’s 200 troops in Iraq are currently suspended due to soaring tensions, with their movements “significantly limited.”

France alone has trained nearly 27,000 Iraqi soldiers over time. Barbry couldn’t say how long the suspension might last, but he stressed that France “is not withdrawing its soldiers from Iraq” and its priority remains the fight against the Islamic State group.

Canada’s foreign minister held a rare telephone conversation with Iran’s foreign minister to stress Canada’s desire to be a part of the investigation into the crash of a Ukrainian jetliner that killed at least 63 Canadians.

A readout of the call released by Ottawa on Thursday said Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif exchanged condolences and that Champagne emphasized that Canada wants to be part of the investigation.

He says Canadians have many questions which will need to be answered. There was no indication Iran agreed to allow Canada to take part in the investigation.

Allowing that might prove difficult as Canada closed its embassy in Iran in 2012, expelled Iranian diplomats from Canada and suspended all diplomatic relations.

Champagne also condemned Iranian strikes on bases in Iraq where U.S.-led Coalition forces, including Canadians, are stationed.

Italy and other allies with a diplomatic presence in Iran are helping Canada with consular assistance for friends and families of the Canadian victims.

Italy’s government says Canada, which doesn’t have diplomatic representation in Iran, has asked Italian assistance “for the protection of Canadian interests and for facilitating activities of consular assistance” in the country.

The Italian foreign ministry in a statement Thursday said Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio spoke by phone with his Canadian counterpart, Francois-Philippe Champagne, after dozens of Canadians died in a plane crash near Tehran.

Di Maio assured the Canadians of “every assistance and support” from Italy, the statement said. Champagne in a separate statement described Italy as “Canada’s protecting power in Iran.”

The Italian minister also expressed his “deep condolences and the closeness of Italy to the families of the victims of the disaster.”

The brigadier general who leads Iran’s aerospace program says its forces launched 13 missiles at bases in Iraq used by U.S. troops early Wednesday “but we were ready to launch hundreds.”

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh also told Iranian state television his forces simultaneously carried out a cyberattack on a U.S. military monitoring service in Iraq.

He asserted that dozens of U.S. forces were killed and wounded “but we were not after killing anyone in this operation.” He said that “we were after hitting the enemy’s military machine.”

The U.S., however, has said no Americans were killed in the missile strike.

A top European Union official is urging Iran’s president to avoid “irreversible acts” potentially fatal to the Iran nuclear deal that is aimed at preventing the country from developing nuclear weapons.

European Council president Charles Michel spoke with President Hassan Rouhani ahead of a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers Friday to assess the rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

According to a European Council statement Thursday, Rouhani told Michel his country wants to continue a “close cooperation” with the EU.
Iran struck the nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China but President Donald Trump decided to unilaterally abandon the agreement in 2018, triggering sanctions that have badly hurt Iran’s economy.

After the U.S. killed Iran’s top general last week, Tehran announced it would no longer respect limits on how many centrifuges it can use to enrich uranium.