Tehran: Iran's Revolutionary Guard on Saturday acknowledged that it accidentally shot down the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed earlier this week, killing all 176 aboard, after the government had repeatedly denied Western accusations that it was responsible.
Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Guard's aerospace division, said his unit accepts “full responsibility” for the shootdown. In an address broadcast by state TV, he said that when he learned about the downing of the plane, “I wished I were dead.''
The commander said a missile fired at a Ukrainian passenger jet exploded next to the plane before it went down. "It was a short-range missile that exploded next to the plane. That's why the plane was able" to continue flying for a while, Gen. Hajizadeh said. "It exploded when it hit the ground."
The plane was shot down early Wednesday, hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an American airstrike in Baghdad. No one was wounded in the attack on the bases.
A military statement carried by state media said the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target" and the Iranian military was at its “highest level of readiness.
“In such a condition, because of human error and in a unintentional way, the flight was hit,'' the military said. It apologized and said it would upgrade its systems to prevent future tragedies.
Those responsible for the strike on the plane would be prosecuted, the statement added.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, expressed his “deep sympathy'' to the families of the victims and called on the armed forces to “pursue probable shortcomings and guilt in the painful incident.”
Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskiy issued a statement saying the crash investigation should continue and the “perpetrators'' should be brought to justice. He said Iran should compensate victims' families, and he requested “official apologies through diplomatic channels.''
The majority of the plane crash victims were Iranians or Iranian-Canadians....