Iran says Ukrainian plane turned back before crashing

Iranian investigators said the Ukraine International Airline jet was engulfed in fire before it crashed. (IRNA/AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2020

Iran says Ukrainian plane turned back before crashing

  • A Ukrainian security official said investigators were considering seven different possible versions of events
  • Most of the victims were from Iran or from the large Iranian diaspora in Canada

TEHRAN: Iranian authorities have said a Ukrainian airliner, which crashed outside Tehran with the loss of all 176 people on board, had turned back after suffering a problem, as Ukrainian experts joined the investigation Thursday.
Both Canada and the United States called for a full investigation to determine the cause of Wednesday's crash, which came shortly after Tehran launched missiles at US forces in Iraq in response to the killing of a top Iranian general in a US drone strike in Baghdad.
There was no immediate indication that foul play may have caused the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) plane to go down soon after take-off, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned against speculating on the crash causes.
"The plane, which was initially headed west to leave the airport zone, turned right following a problem and was headed back to the airport at the moment of the crash," the Iranian Civil Aviation Organisation said on its website late Wednesday.
"The plane disappeared from radar screens the moment it reached 8,000 feet (2,400 metres). The pilot sent no radio message about the unusual circumstances.
"According to eyewitnesses, a fire was seen on board the plane which grew in intensity," the organisation added, reporting the first findings of its investigation into the crash.
The organisation said it was considering evidence from the ground as well as reports from a second aircraft which was flying above the Ukrainian Boeing 737 as the disaster unfolded.
Heartbreaking details started emerging about the victims, most of them from Iran or from the large Iranian diaspora in Canada.
Body bags were lined up on the ground, and the passengers' personal items - including luggage, clothes, a Santa Claus doll and a boxing glove - were scattered in the debris.
According to Ukraine, 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three Britons were on board, as well as 11 Ukrainians - including nine crew.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in Ottawa following the fatal plane crash outside of Tehran, Iran, that claimed the lives of 176 people, including 63 Canadians. pic.twitter.com/uMTdY11jDO


About 30 came from the Iranian community around Edmonton, capital of Alberta province in western Canada, where resident Payman Parseyan described the tragedy as "devastating".
"Every one of our community members was touched in one way or another," Parseyan told Canada's national broadcaster CBC.
Some 45 Ukrainian aviation experts and security officials flew to Tehran early Thursday to participate in the investigation, including "deciphering the black boxes" discovered by Iranian authorities at the crash site, the Ukrainian president said.
A Ukrainian security official said investigators were considering seven different possible versions of events.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine's national security and defence council which is tasked with coordinating the investigation, said the leads being studied included both technical malfunctions and foul play, but told AFP that "there is no priority version" yet.
The leads under consideration include a collision with another airborne object, a rocket from Iran's missile defence system, an engine explosion caused by a technical problem, and an explosion on board the aircraft due to an "act of terror", Danilov said on Facebook.
He told AFP that for the moment there was no reason to believe that the airliner had been hit by a missile.
Civil aviation chief, Ali Abedzadeh, said Iran would cooperate with Ukraine, but would not send the black boxes to the United States, with which it has had no diplomatic relations for four decades.
According to aviation experts, only a handful of countries are capable of analysing black boxes - notably Britain, France, Germany and the United States.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would ensure a "thorough investigation" and that "Canadians' questions are answered".
Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne spoke by telephone on Thursday with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, Tehran said.
Canada is home to a large Iranian diaspora, and UIA offers relatively inexpensive flights between Toronto and Tehran, with a layover in Kiev.
It was the ex-Soviet country's privately owned main carrier's first fatal crash.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 22 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”