Iran says to take legal action against U.S. over passenger plane harassment

July 24, 2020 - 16:7

TEHRAN – Tehran says it is investigating the details of the Thursday night’s harassment of a Beirut-bound Mahan Air flight by the U.S. warplanes, warning the U.S. against any further escalation.

In a statement on Thursday night, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Iran will take the necessary political and legal actions once the investigation is completed.

“Meanwhile, Iran's permanent representative and ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht-Ravanchi has explicitly emphasized to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that Iran will hold the U.S. responsible if anything happens to this airplane on its way back,” Mousavi said, according to the Foreign Ministry website.

The message has also been conveyed to the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, whose country protects the U.S. interests in Iran, he added.

Warplanes deployed by the so-called U.S.-led coalition operating illegally in Syria conducted aggressive maneuvering close to the Beirut-bound Iranian passenger airplane.

The incident involved two warplanes and Mahan Air’s Flight 1152, which had taken off from Tehran and was en route to the Lebanese capital, IRNA reported.

Videos broadcast by Iranian and Lebanese media taken by passengers showed passengers screaming as sudden turbulence seized the plane.

In the aftermath, one video showed a passenger with his face and head bloodied, as well as a man lying down, apparently unconscious, while someone tended to him. Oxygen masks dangled overhead.

Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, said in a statement later Thursday that an Air Force F-15 on “a routine air mission” near a small American military base in southern Syria had conducted “a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner,” the New York Times reported.

Captain Urban claimed the encounter on Thursday was conducted at “a safe distance of approximately 1,000 meters” and was done to “ensure the safety of coalition personnel.”

“Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane,” Captain Urban added, “the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft.” He claimed the encounter was done “in accordance with international standards.”

A U.S. military official said a second U.S. Air Force F-15 was at least two miles away from the Mahan Air jetliner, but only one of the U.S. aircraft closed to about 1,000 meters.

The plane later landed in Beirut, safely evacuating its passengers. After refueling, it immediately took off and returned to Tehran’s Imam Khomeini without any harassment, media reports say.

The IRIB news quoted a passenger describing how his head had hit the roof of the plane during the change in altitude.

“I don't know what happened. A black plane came close to our plane and our plane lost its balance. I was sprung up and my head was banged against the ceiling,” the unnamed passenger told IRIB.

Another said: “It was a fighter jet. A fighter jet was literally sticking to our plane. We lost balance and bounced up and down.”

All the passengers left the plane, some with minor injuries, the head of the Beirut airport told Reuters.

The incident comes amid tensions between Tehran and Washington, which deteriorated since 2018 when U.S. President Donald Trump exited Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and adopted a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.

Laya Joneidi, the presidential aide for legal affairs, said harassing a passenger plane is a violation of the principles of international law.

She said the actions taken by the U.S. fighters are a violation of Articles 3 and 44 of the International Civil Aviation Convention (Chicago Convention).

According to Joneidi, the explanations provided so far are unjustified and unconvincing, so the actions taken by the fighters will cause the international responsibility of their respective governments and will lead to legal action by Iran, including in the ICAO Council and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Iran Civil Aviation Organization on Friday lodged a protest at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), condemning the harassment.

“The harassment of the Iranian passenger plane by U.S. warplanes constitutes clear violation of international law as well as aviation standards and regulations,” Iran Civil Aviation Organization said in a statement.

It also urged the ICAO to look into the issue as soon as possible.

MH/

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