Archive for January 10, 2020

8 said killed in airstrike on pro-Iranian militia in eastern Syria 

January 10, 2020

Source: 8 said killed in airstrike on pro-Iranian militia in eastern Syria | The Times of Isral

Israel accused of attack on arms depots, vehicles carrying missiles, amid simmering tensions following Soleimani killing; US-led military coalition denies carrying out strike

A picture taken on November 12, 2018 from al-Qaim in Iraq's border al-Anbar province shows the Syrian border city of Albu Kamal in the Deir Ezzor region. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

A picture taken on November 12, 2018 from al-Qaim in Iraq’s border al-Anbar province shows the Syrian border city of Albu Kamal in the Deir Ezzor region. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

An airstrike in eastern Syria killed eight fighters from Iraq’s Iran-backed Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Force) militia overnight, a monitoring group said Friday.

“Unidentified aircraft targeted vehicles and arms depots in the Albu Kamal area, causing a large explosion. At least eight Iraqi Hashed fighters were killed,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

He said several others were wounded.

Through a spokesman contacted by AFP, the US-led military coalition operating in Syria and Iraq denied carrying out the strike.

Abdel Rahman, of the Britain-based organization which documents the war in Syria through a network of activists on the ground, said three villages in the Albu Kamal area known for housing forces loyal to Tehran have been targeted by drone strikes since Wednesday, causing no casualties.

An Iraqi security official and a PMF official said warplanes targeted two vehicles carrying missiles on the Syrian side of the border. The strike was most likely carried out by Israeli warplanes, they said but offered no evidence.

The area struck is key to a land corridor for Tehran that links Iran across Iraq and Syria through Lebanon. The Observatory report claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had informed Syrian President Bashar Assad this week of a US intention to “close” the land corridor for good.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syrian President Bashar Assad shake hands during their meeting in Damascus, Syria, January 7, 2020. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Explosions were reported late Thursday at a base near the Iraqi-Syria border thought to be used by Shiite militias, in what was a suspected airstrike.

According to local news site DeirEzzor24, a weapons shipment to Lebanese terror group Hezbollah was targeted in the attack. The weapons reportedly included ballistic missiles belonging to the Imam Ali Brigade, a Shiite militia under the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces umbrella.

The Lebanese Al-Mayadeen news outlet claimed that the raid was carried out by Israeli aircraft, citing sources in the field. It said the raid targeted a weapons transport.

There was also no immediate response from Israel, which does not generally comment on foreign reports of individual strikes.

The strike came amid sky-high tensions in the region, following a deadly US drone strike on Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the effective head of the PMF, last week.

In September, large strikes in the same area that destroyed major parts of a weapons storehouse known as the Imam Ali compound were attributed to Israel.

Satellite image showing the aftermath of an overnight airstrike on an alleged Iranian military base in Syria’s Albu Kamal region, near the Iraqi border, on September 9, 2019. (ImageSat International)

Israel reportedly believed the base, which was overseen by Soleimani’s Quds Force, was a key element in Tehran’s effort to develop a so-called “land bridge” that would allow the Islamic Republic to easily move weapons, fighters, and war materiel from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Shortly after that strike, members of a Shiite militia in Syria fired a number of rockets toward Mount Hermon on the Israeli Golan Heights from the outskirts of Damascus, according to the Israeli military.

The projectiles fell short of the border and landed inside Syrian territory.

Israel views Iran as its greatest threat, and has acknowledged carrying out scores of airstrikes in Syria in recent years aimed primarily at preventing the transfers of sophisticated weapons, including guided missiles, to the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

 

Video appears to show missile hitting Ukrainian plane near Tehran

January 10, 2020

Source: Video appears to show missile hitting Ukrainian plane near Tehran | The Times of Israel

UK says ‘body of information’ points to missile strike, possibly accidental, joining US and Canada; Iran denies hitting liner, asks Canada to share intel

In this Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 photo a rescue worker searches the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

In this Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 photo a rescue worker searches the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Video appearing to show a missile hitting a Ukrainian jetliner shortly after takeoff in Tehran emerged Thursday as Western countries said evidence showed it was “highly likely” that Iranian anti-aircraft fire downed the plane a day earlier.

Iran cast doubt over the claims late Thursday, and asked Canada to share what evidence it had. It also invited the plane’s manufacturer Boeing to take part in the official inquiry into the crash, apparently reversing an earlier decision to not share black box information from the jet’s final moments.

The video, published by The New York Times and independent research outfit Bellingcat, appears to show a missile explode as it hits a low-flying object.

According to the Times, which said it verified the video, the missile only damaged the jet, causing it to burst into flames. It attempted to return to the Imam Khomenei airport south of Tehran, but crashed into the ground shortly after, killing all 176 people aboard.

The crash came just a few hours after Iran launched a ballistic attack against Iraqi military bases housing US troops amid a confrontation with Washington over the US drone strike that killed an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general.

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Bellingcat said the video was taken from Parand, a suburb southwest of Tehran near the airport and below the plane’s flight path. The video was initially shared online publicly via Telegram and Twitter and a high resolution version was later obtained by The New York Times.

The Ukrainian International Airlines took off at 6:12 a.m. Wednesday, Tehran time, after nearly an hour’s delay at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport, the main airport for travelers in Iran. It gained altitude heading west, reaching nearly 8,000 feet, according to both an Iranian report on the crash Thursday and flight-tracking data.

Eyewitnesses, including the crew of another flight passing above, described seeing the plane engulfed in flames before crashing at 6:18 a.m., the Iranian report said. The crash caused a massive explosion when the plane hit the ground, likely because the aircraft had been fully loaded with fuel for the flight to Kyiv, Ukraine.

A second video appears to show the plane on fire as it attempts to return to the airport, before crashing into the ground.

The plane was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, at least 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials. Many of the passengers were believed to be international students attending universities in Canada; they were making their way back to Toronto by way of Kyiv after visiting with family during the winter break.

US and Canadian officials said Thursday that evidence indicates it is “highly likely” that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile downed the Ukrainian jetliner near Tehran. They said the strike, which killed all 176 people on board, could well have been a mistake amid intentional airstrikes and high tensions throughout the region.

They were later joined by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said there was now “a body of information” that an Iranian missile brought down the plane.

“There is now a body of information that the flight was shot down by an Iranian Surface to Air Missile. This may well have been unintentional,” Johnson said in a statement on the air disaster in which four British passengers died.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country lost at least 63 citizens in the downing, said in a Thursday press conference in Toronto: “We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.”

Rescue teams work amid debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. (AFP)

Earlier Thursday, US President Donald Trump suggested he believed Iran was responsible for the shootdown but wouldn’t directly blame the Iranians. He dismissed Iran’s initial claim that it was a mechanical issue.

“Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side.” Trump said, noting the plane was flying in a “pretty rough neighborhood.”

“Some people say it was mechanical,” Trump added. “I personally don’t think that’s even a question.”

Four US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, wouldn’t say what intelligence they had that pointed to an Iranian missile. But they acknowledged the existence of satellites and other sensors in the region, as well as the likelihood of communication interceptions and other similar intelligence.

Colleagues of the flight crew members of the Ukrainian 737-800 plane that crashed on the outskirts of Tehran, light candles at a memorial inside Borispil international airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s main airport, killing all onboard, Iranian state TV and officials in Ukraine said. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Unnamed officials told US media satellite, radar and electronic data indicated Tehran’s air defense units downed the aircraft.

ABC News reported that an unnamed official said it was “highly likely” the plane was brought down by two surface-to-air missiles.

Two additional US officials said the intelligence pointing to likely Iranian responsibility became clearer overnight into Thursday.

It was not immediately clear how the US and its allies would react to the downing of the airliner. At least 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians were among the dead.

Despite efforts by Washington and Tehran to step back from the brink of possible war, the region remained on edge after the killing of the Iranian general and Iran’s retaliatory missile strikes. U.S. troops were on high-alert.

The latest assessment comes just a day after US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they hadn’t had a chance to review the intelligence on the incident. Both spent much of the day at the White House and on Capitol Hill briefing the administration on on the killing of general Qassem Soleimani and the resulting attacks by Iran.

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone strike, in the city of Kerman, Iran, January 7, 2020 (Erfan Kouchari/Tasnim News Agency via AP)

Ukraine, meanwhile, said it considered a missile strike as one of several possible theories for the crash, despite Iran’s early denials.

The preliminary Iranian investigative report released Thursday suggests that a sudden emergency struck the Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines late Tuesday, when it crashed, just minutes after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran. However it said that the airliner pilots never made a radio call for help and that the aircraft was trying to turn back for the airport when the burning plane went down.

Investigators from Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization offered no immediate explanation for the disaster, however. Iranian officials initially blamed a technical malfunction for the crash, something backed by Ukrainian officials before they said they wouldn’t speculate amid an ongoing investigation.

Before the US assessment, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Hasan Rezaeifa, the head of the of civil aviation accident investigation commission, claiming that “the topics of rocket, missile or anti-aircraft system is ruled out.”

Rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. (AFP)

The report also confirmed that both of the “black boxes” that contain data and cockpit communications from the plane had been recovered, though they sustained damage and some parts of their memory was lost.

Hours before the plane crash the US Federal Aviation Administration had issued an emergency flight restriction barring US carriers and pilots from flying over areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace warning of the “potential for miscalculation or misidentification” for civilian aircraft due to heightened political and military tensions.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, told Ukrainian media that officials had several working theories regarding the crash, including a missile strike.

Iran did not immediately respond to the Ukrainian comments. However, Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, the spokesman of the Iranian armed forces, denied a missile hit the airplane in a comments reported Wednesday by the semiofficial Fars news agency. He dismissed the allegation as “psychological warfare” by foreign-based Iranian opposition groups.

The US accident investigator, the National Transportation Safety Board, is talking to the State Department and the Treasury Department about traveling to Iran to inspect the US-built aircraft and working with Iranian authorities despite US economic sanctions against that country. Federal officials are concerned about sending employees to Iran because of the heightened tensions.

Iran denies its forces shot down passenger jet, calls on West to share data

January 10, 2020

Source: Iran denies its forces shot down passenger jet, calls on West to share data | The Times of Israel

‘We can say with certainty that no missile hit the plane,’ head of national aviation department says, as world leaders assert intelligence shows otherwise

Debris is seen from an Ukrainian plane which crashed as authorities work at the scene in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Debris is seen from an Ukrainian plane which crashed as authorities work at the scene in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Friday denied Western allegations a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed outside Tehran was brought down by an Iranian missile and called on the US and Canada to share any information they have on the crash, which killed all 176 people on board.

Western leaders said the plane appeared to have been unintentionally hit by a surface-to-air missile near Tehran, just hours after Iran launched a series of ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq to avenge the killing of its top general in an American airstrike last week.

“What is obvious for us, and what we can say with certainty, is that no missile hit the plane,” Abedzadeh, head of Iran’s national aviation department, told a press conference.

“If they are really sure, they should come and show their findings to the world” in accordance with international standards, he added.

Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of a Ukrainian plane crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Jan. 8, 2020 (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Hassan Rezaeifar, the head of Iranian investigation team on Friday told the same press conference that recovering data from the black box flight recorders could take more than a month and that the entire investigation could stretch into next year.

He also said Iran may request help from international experts if it is not able to extract the flight recordings.

The ballistic missile attack on the bases in Iraq caused no casualties, raising hopes that the standoff over the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani would end relatively peacefully, though Iran has sent mixed signals over whether its retaliation is complete.

If the US or Canada were to present incontrovertible evidence that the plane was shot down by Iran, even if unintentionally, it could have a dramatic impact on public opinion in Iran.

The Iranian public had rallied around the leadership after the killing of Soleimani last Friday, with hundreds of thousands joining the general’s funeral processions in several cities, in an unprecedented display of grief and unity.

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone strike, in the city of Kerman, Iran, January 7, 2020 (Erfan Kouchari/Tasnim News Agency via AP)

But sentiments in Iran are still raw over the government’s crackdown on large-scale protests late last year sparked by the worsening economic situation. Several hundred protesters were reported to have been killed in the clampdown.

Those fissures could quickly break open again if public evidence is presented that Iranian authorities were responsible for the deaths of 176 people, mainly Iranians or dual Iranian-Canadian citizens.

The state-run IRNA news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying Iran “has invited both Ukraine and the Boeing company to participate in the investigations.” The spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, said it will also welcome experts from other countries’ whose citizens died in the crash.

Iran had initially said it would not allow Boeing to take part in the probe, going against prevailing international norms on crash investigations. It later invited the US accident-investigating agency to take part in the investigation.

Rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board (AFP)

The National Transportation Safety Board said late Thursday that it would “evaluate its level of participation,” but its role could be limited by US sanctions on Iran. US officials have also expressed concern about sending employees to Iran because of the heightened tensions.

Under rules set by a United Nations aviation organization, the NTSB is entitled to participate because the crash involved a Boeing 737-800 jet that was designed and built in the US.

There was no immediate comment from Boeing.

US, Canadian and British officials said Thursday it is “highly likely” that Iran shot down the Boeing 737 that crashed near Tehran late Tuesday. US officials said the jetliner might have been mistakenly identified as a threat.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country lost at least 63 citizens in the downing, said “we have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence.”

“The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” he said. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered similar statements.

Mourners console each other during a vigil for the victims of Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 which crashed in Iran during a vigil at Mel Lastman Square in Toronto, Ontario on January 9, 2020 (Geoff Robins / AFP)

The US officials did not say what intelligence they had that pointed to an Iranian missile, believed to be fired by Russian Tor system, known to NATO as the SA-15. But they acknowledged the existence of satellites and other sensors in the region, as well as the likelihood of communication interceptions and other similar intelligence.

Western countries may hesitate to share information on such a strike because it comes from highly classified sources.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said “the missile theory is not ruled out, but it has not been confirmed yet.”

In a Facebook post, he reiterated his call “on all international partners” — the US, Britain and Canada in particular — to share data and evidence relevant to the crash. He also announced plans to discuss the investigation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later on Friday.

This satellite photo provided by Maxar Technologies on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, shows the site where a Ukrainian jetliner crashed late Tuesday near the town of Shahedshahr, Iran, southwest of the capital Tehran. The AP has annotated the image to show the location and length of the debris field (Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies via AP)

Iranian officials initially said the plane appeared to have crashed because of technical difficulties.

A preliminary Iranian investigative report released Thursday said that the airliner pilots never made a radio call for help and that the aircraft was trying to turn back for the airport when the burning plane went down.

The Iranian report suggested that a sudden emergency struck the Boeing 737, operated by Ukrainian International Airlines, just minutes after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran early Wednesday.

Abedzadeh, the senior aviation official, had earlier said that by law there is “full coordination” between the country’s air defenses and the civil aviation system. He said it is “absolutely impossible” that the armed forces would shoot down a civilian plane.

Candles light a photo of one of the victims of Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 which crashed in Iran earlier, during a vigil at Mel Lastman Square in Toronto, Ontario on January 9, 2020 (Geoff Robins / AFP)

He said authorities have recovered two black box flight recorders, saying they are “damaged” but readable, which may shed further light on what caused the crash.

Ukraine said Iranian authorities allowed Ukrainian investigators to examine fragments of the plane late Thursday.

“It is too early on in the investigation to reveal specific details,” the statement from the Ukraine president’s office said. It added that DNA is being collected from relatives of Ukrainians who died in the crash in order to identify the bodies.