Leader offers deep condolences to victims’ families
President orders compensation
Iran said on Saturday a Ukrainian passenger plane that had crashed Wednesday near Tehran had been “hit unintentionally” while the military was on high alert in the tense aftermath of Iranian missile strikes on US targets in Iraq.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces said in a statement the Boeing 737 flew close to a “sensitive military center” of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps “at the altitude and trajectory of a hostile target”.
"In these circumstances, the plane was unintentionally hit due to human error," it said.
The military “apologized” for the tragedy and gave assurances that “legal action” will be taken against those responsible for the incident that resulted in the death of all 176 Iranian and foreign nationals aboard the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA).
The jet, which had been bound for Kiev, slammed into a field shortly after taking off from Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport before dawn on Wednesday.
It came only hours after Iran launched a wave of missiles at bases hosting American forces in Iraq in response to the assassination of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, one of Iran's top generals, in a US drone strike.
Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei offered his “deep condolences to the families of the victims” and “strongly” urged the Armed Forces to address "possible shortcomings and oversights in the painful incident” so that such a disaster does not happen again.
President: Iran saddened by catastrophic mistake
“The Islamic Republic of Iran is very much saddened by this catastrophic mistake,” President Hassan Rouhani, promising that those behind the incident would be prosecuted.
Rouhani said a military probe into the crash had found that “human error and wrong firing led to a great disaster”.
Rouhani said the "unforgivable mistake" was made as the Iranian military was on full alert to defend the country against likely strikes by the US.
The president added he had ordered "all relevant bodies to take all necessary actions (to ensure) compensation" to the families of those killed.
“A sad day,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster. Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”
Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Division, said the pilot of the passenger plane had done nothing wrong and that the IRGC accept full responsibility.
Speaking on state television, Hajizadeh said he had informed authorities on Wednesday about the unintentional move that brought down the plane.
The commander said he wished “I could die” when he heard the news about the incident.
Hajizadeh said the missile operator acted independently when he fired at the aircraft after mistaking it for a "cruise missile".
"He had 10 seconds to decide. He could have decided to strike or not to strike and under such circumstances he took the wrong decision."
The majority of passengers on the flight PS752 were Iranians and dual national Iranian-Canadians but also included Ukrainians, Afghans, Britons and Swedes.
Iran has invited Ukraine, Canada, the United States and France to take part in the investigation of the crash, in keeping with international norms. The Boeing 737 was built in the United States and the engine was built by a US-French consortium.
Ukraine and Canada called for accountability after Iran's admission.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky demanded Iran punish those responsible and pay compensation.
"We expect Iran... to bring the guilty to the courts," he said on Facebook.
Zelensky said Ukraine’s team of investigators, who are already on the ground in Iran, should continue their work with “full access and cooperation.”
He said Iran should compensate victims’ families, and he requested “official apologies through diplomatic channels.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said closure and accountability were needed.
Trudeau also demanded "transparency, and justice for the families and loved ones of the victims".
"This is a national tragedy, and all Canadians are mourning together."
The disaster came as tensions soared in the region after Soleimani's assassination, and fears grew of an all-out war between Iran and its arch-enemy the United States.
Iran had vowed "severe revenge" for the assassination of Soleimani before launching missiles at the bases in Iraq.
Nations around the world have called for restraint and de-escalation, and fears of a full-blown conflict have subsided.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday that the air crash in Iran reinforced the importance of de-escalating tensions in the Middle East.
In a statement, Johnson said Iran’s admission “is an important first step”.
“We now need a comprehensive, transparent and independent international investigation,” Johnson said.
“We can all see very clearly that further conflict will only lead to more loss and tragedy. It is vital that all leaders now pursue a diplomatic way forward.”
Press TV, AFP, AP and Reuters contributed to this story.