The United States confirmed one of its military jets inspected an Iranian passenger flight in Syrian airspace late Thursday, after reports that the aircraft had been threatened by foreign fighter jets.
The Mahan Air aircraft had to descend to prevent a collision, leading to several passengers being injured in the process, Iranian state broadcaster IRIB reported.
Mahan Air flight 1152 was on its way to Beirut, according to IRIB.
IRIB had initially pointed to Israeli involvement, but the US military later confirmed one of their own jets had approached the passenger jet to identify it.
A US F-15 on a routine mission conducted a standard visual inspection of the passenger airliner “at a safe distance of approximately 1,000 meters,” Bill Urban, a spokesman for US Central Command, said in a statement.
The inspection was carried out to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at the US garrison at Tanf, he added.
“Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft.
“The professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards,” Urban said.
Syria had said earlier that a coalition led by the US was responsible for the incident, according to the state-run Syrian News Agency (SANA).
SANA quoted civil aviation sources as saying that “an aircraft believed to be affiliated with the U.S.-led coalition intercepted an Iranian civilian aircraft in Syrian airspace in the Al-Tanf area, forcing the pilot to drop sharply, causing minor injuries among the passengers.”
The sources added that the Iranian plane was coming from the Iranian capital Tehran and bound for Beirut via Syrian airspace, and that it was able to complete its flight to the Lebanese capital.
According to an IRIB reporter who was on the flight, the Syrian control tower said that two Israeli fighter jets had been involved. The reporter said they came within 200 metres of the passenger plane.
“It was not just a threat, but a de facto attack by the Zionists (Israel) on the Iranian aircraft,” the reporter said.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry did not confirm Israeli involvement in the incident.
“The details of the incident are still being investigated and afterwards we will initiate political and legal steps,” said spokesman Abbas Mussawi, as cited by news agency Isna.
The Iranian government expects the aircraft to be able to fly safely back to Tehran, the spokesman said.
He added that Iran had informed the UN Secretary General and the Swiss embassy, which represents the United States diplomatically.
The head of Beirut airport, Fadi al-Hassan, told local Lebanese broadcaster New Television that the Iranian plane landed at 8:30 PM (1730 GMT).
“All the passengers are well, but some suffered from minor wounds … most suffered from shock and fear,” al-Hassan said.
The Head of the Lebanese Red Cross, George Kettneh, told dpa: “Our teams did not transfer any wounded to any hospital; mainly they were all suffering from shock and fear.”
Videos were circulating on the internet that are said to have been recorded on the plane, showing passengers wearing life jackets and objects in the gangway, but the authenticity of the recordings could not be determined.
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