Ukraine PM Tenders Resignation After Leaked Recording

 

Prime Minister of Ukraine Oleksiy Honcharuk (R) and Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov (L) attend a briefing in Kiev on January 8, 2020.
All passengers and crew on board the Ukrainian Boeing 737 plane that crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran on January 8, 2020 were killed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

Ukraine’s prime minister offered his resignation on Friday after audio was leaked of him reportedly criticising President Volodomyr Zelensky’s understanding of the economy.

“To remove any doubts about our respect for and trust in the president, I have written a resignation letter and handed it over to the president,” Oleksiy Goncharuk wrote on his official Facebook page.

He said the audio “artificially created an impression that my team and I do not respect the president”.

“This is not true,” he said. “I came to this post to carry out the president’s programme.”

Zelensky’s office said it had received the letter of resignation and would consider it.

The alleged recording, which emerged this week, came from an informal December meeting between ministers and senior officials from the National Bank.

According to local media reports, the participants discussed how to explain recent economic developments to Zelensky, a comedian and political neophyte who won a surprise election victory last year.

Goncharuk, 35, is reportedly heard saying that explanations need to be simple because “Zelensky has a very primitive understanding of the economy.”

AFP

New Footage Shows Two Iranian Missiles Hitting Ukraine Plane

An image grab from footage obtained from the state-run Iran Press news agency on January 8, 2020 allegedly shows rockets launched from the Islamic republic against the US military base in Ein-al Asad in Iraq the prevous night.
IRAN PRESS / AFP

 

New video footage has emerged showing two Iranian missiles tearing through the night sky and hitting a Ukrainian passenger plane, sending the aircraft down in flames and killing all 176 passengers and crew on board.

The projectiles were fired 30 seconds apart and explain why the plane’s transponder was not working as it hurtled to the ground — it was disabled by the first strike, before being hit by a second, said the New York Times, which published the verified security camera footage Tuesday.

The blurry film, shot from a rooftop in a village four miles from an Iranian military site, shows the Kiev-bound plane on fire and circling back to Tehran’s airport, the Times said. Minutes later, the aircraft exploded and crashed.

Iran had for days denied Western claims that the Boeing 737 had been downed by its missiles.

Tehran came clean on Saturday when Revolutionary Guards aerospace commander Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh acknowledged a missile operator had mistaken the Ukraine International Airlines plane for a cruise missile and opened fire.

READ ALSO: US Democrats Lock Horns Over War, Gender In Last Debate

The incident happened when Iran’s armed forces were on heightened alert after launching a volley of missiles at Iraqi bases hosting US troops in retaliation for the killing of top general Qasem Soleimani on January 3.

Iran has struggled to contain the fallout over its handling of the air disaster and the tragedy has seen hundreds of angry protesters, most of them students, take to the streets.

New videos circulating on social media purported to show fresh protests on Tuesday evening at universities in Tehran, along with clashes between students and Basij militia loyal to the establishment.

It was not possible to immediately verify the videos.

Earlier, AFP correspondents said around 200 mainly masked students gathered at Tehran University and were locked in a tense standoff with youths from the Basij.

Kept apart by security forces, the groups eventually parted ways.

Around 30 people have been arrested in the protests over the air disaster, according to judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili.

On Tuesday Tehran said it had made its first arrests over the shooting down of the plane, though it gave no details.

‘Real Rift’

Recent protests have been much smaller than nationwide demonstrations against fuel price hikes that turned deadly in November.

But one commentator said the latest rallies showed there was a “real rift between the people and the authorities”.

“I hope that (police restraint) will continue and that no lives are lost because this could be a catalyst for more protests,” Mehdi Rahmanian, director of reformist daily Shargh, told AFP.

In another sign of growing dissent, a group of artists canceled their participation in the Fajr festival, held each year on the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, according to Hamshahri newspaper.

President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday Iran’s judiciary “must form a special court with a high-ranking judge and dozens of experts… The whole world will be watching.”

“Anyone who should be punished must be punished”.

The office of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he spoke to Canada’s premier Justin Trudeau on Tuesday for a third time since the crash, with the latter asking for help from Kiev in liaising with Iranian authorities to help identify bodies of Canadian citizens.

AFP

All Responsible For Air Disaster Will Be Punished, Says Iran President

 

A handout picture provided by the official website of the Iranian Presidency on January 12, 2020 shows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaking during a joint press conference with the Emir of Qatar in Tehran. IRANIAN PRESIDENCY / AFP
A handout picture provided by the official website of the Iranian Presidency on January 12, 2020 shows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaking during a joint press conference with the Emir of Qatar in Tehran. IRANIAN PRESIDENCY / AFP

 

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that everyone responsible for the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner last week must be punished.

“For our people it is very important in this incident that anyone who was at fault or negligent at any level” face justice, he said in a televised speech.

“Anyone who should be punished must be punished,” said Rouhani.

“The judiciary must form a special court with high-ranking judge and dozens of experts… The whole world will be watching.”

The Ukraine International Airlines plane was brought down by a missile shortly after takeoff from Tehran last Wednesday, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board.

READ ALSO: Iran Missile Operator Had 10 Seconds To Decide After ‘Communication Jam’: Guards

Iran for days denied Western claims based on US intelligence that the airliner had been downed by a missile before acknowledging that version was correct on Saturday.

It has come under mounting international pressure to ensure its investigation into the tragedy is full and transparent.

The authorities’ handling of the air disaster and has also angered people in Iran.

Videos posted on social networks on Monday purported to show people taking to the streets for a third consecutive day, with demonstrators apparently shouting slogans against the Islamic republic.

 

AFP

Trump Warns Iran Against ‘Massacre’ As Protests Erupt Over Jetliner Downing

A file photo of US President, Donald Trump. AFP Photo.

 

 

US President Donald Trump said Saturday the United States was monitoring Iranian demonstrations closely, warning against any new “massacre” as protests broke out after Tehran admitted to shooting down a passenger plane.

Iran said earlier it unintentionally downed a Ukrainian jetliner outside Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard, in an abrupt about-turn after initially denying Western claims it was struck by a missile. The firing came shortly after Iran launched missiles at bases in Iraq housing American forces.

President Hassan Rouhani said a military probe into the tragedy had found “missiles fired due to human error” brought down the Boeing 737, calling it an “unforgivable mistake.”

At a student protest to pay tribute to the crash victims on Saturday, Iranian authorities briefly detained Britain’s ambassador, in what the British government called a violation of international law. He was later released.

Trump told Iranians — in tweets in both English and Farsi — that he stands by them and is monitoring the demonstrations.

“To the brave, long-suffering people of Iran: I’ve stood with you since the beginning of my Presidency, and my Administration will continue to stand with you,” he tweeted.

“There can not be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an internet shutdown. The world is watching,” he added, apparently referring to an Iranian crackdown on street protests that broke out in November.

“We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage,” he said.

The new demonstrations follow an Iranian crackdown on street protests that broke out in November. Amnesty International has said it left more than 300 people dead.

Internet access was reportedly cut off in multiple Iranian provinces ahead of memorials planned a month after the protests.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has demanded that Iran provide “full clarity” on the downing of the plane. Ottawa says the dead included 57 Canadians.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also offered his condolences and ordered the armed forces to address “shortcomings” so that such a disaster does not happen again.

Tehran’s acknowledgment came after officials in Iran denied for days Western claims that the Ukraine International Airlines plane had been struck by a missile in a catastrophic error.

The Kiev-bound jet slammed into a field shortly after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport on Wednesday.

The crash came hours after Tehran launched missiles at bases hosting American forces in Iraq in response to the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike.

Fears grew of an all-out war between Iran and its arch-enemy the United States, but those concerns have subsided after Trump said Tehran appeared to be standing down after targeting the US bases.

Protesters ‘dispersed’

On Saturday evening, police dispersed students who had converged on Amir Kabir University in Tehran to pay tribute to the victims, after some among the hundreds gathered shouted “destructive” slogans, Fars news agency said.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said UK envoy Rob Macaire had been detained.

“The arrest of our ambassador in Tehran without grounds or explanation is a flagrant violation of international law,” Raab said in a statement. The US called on Iran to apologize.

Iran’s Tasnim News Agency, which is close to the country’s conservatives, said the envoy had been “provoking radical acts” among students. He was released a few hours later and would be summoned again by Iranian officials on Sunday, it said.

State television reported that students shouted “anti-regime” chants, while Fars reported that posters of Soleimani had been torn down.

The aerospace commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards accepted full responsibility for Wednesday’s accident.

But Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh said the missile operator acted independently, targeting the 737 after mistaking it for a “cruise missile”.

The operator failed to obtain approval from his superiors because of disruptions to a communications system, he said.

“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.”

Justice, compensation

Iran had been under mounting international pressure to allow a “credible” investigation after video emerged appearing to show the moment the airliner was hit.

In footage that the New York Times said it had verified, a fast-moving object is seen rising into the sky before a bright flash appears. Several seconds later, an explosion is heard.

Iran’s military said it had been at the highest level of alert after American “threats” and that the plane had turned and come close to a “sensitive” military site before it was targeted due to “human error.”

Rouhani said Iran had been on alert for possible US attacks after Soleimani’s “martyrdom.”

Rouhani added he had ordered “all relevant bodies to take all necessary actions (to ensure) compensation” to the families of those killed.

The majority of passengers on Flight PS752 were Iranians and Canadians, including dual nationals, while Ukrainians, Afghans, Britons, and Swedes were also aboard.

Rouhani told his Ukrainian counterpart Saturday that “all the persons involved in this air disaster will be brought to justice,” Ukraine’s presidency said.

This is Iran’s worst civil aviation disaster since 1988 when the US military said it shot down an Iran Airplane over the Gulf by mistake, killing all 290 people on board.

Ukraine President To Speak With Iran’s Rouhani Over Downing Of Plane

A photo combination of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani. AFP

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was due to speak on the phone with Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on Saturday after Tehran admitted downing a Ukrainian airliner, officials said.

Zelensky scheduled a “telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for 5 pm (1500 GMT),” Zelensky’s presidential press office said in a statement.

Tehran admitted Saturday that it accidentally downed the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) plane, killing all 176 people on board on Wednesday, shortly after launching missiles at bases hosting US forces in Iraq.

Rouhani said that Tehran “deeply regrets this disastrous mistake”.

READ ALSO: Iran Guards Commander Accepts Responsibility For Shooting Down Ukrainian Plane

Tehran has now provided Ukrainian experts with enough data including “all the photos, videos, and other materials” to show the probe into the downing of the passenger jet “will be carried out objectively and promptly,” Zelensky’s office said.

Zelensky earlier Saturday demanded that Iran provide “total access” to the full inquiry for Ukrainian aviation experts and security officials sent to investigate the crash on the president’s request.

He also called for Tehran to punish those responsible for the accidental downing, pay compensation and apologise.

Iran’s downing of the plane comes after a Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014 with the loss of 296 people on board.

Investigators say a Russian-made BUK missile fired by pro-Russian separatists was to blame and the trial of four people over the crash is due to start in the Netherlands in March.

Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement in the plane’s downing.

AFP

World Leaders Demand Full Account After Iran Admits Downing Ukrainian Plane

Rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. 
AFP

 

Iran said Saturday it had unintentionally shot down the Ukrainian airliner that crashed this week outside Tehran killing 176 people, calling it an “unforgivable mistake”.

The statement sparked some relief that at least the immediate cause of the disaster would not be concealed amid international calls for a full accounting and compensation for the victims.

Iran has invited the United States, Ukraine, Canada and others to join the crash investigation.

READ ALSO: Iran Guards Commander Accepts Responsibility For Shooting Down Ukrainian Plane

Herewith are some of the remarks made by top leaders in response to the Iranian statement on its responsibility for the crash.

Ukraine: ‘Bring The Guilty To Court’

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky demanded that Iran punish those responsible, pay compensation and apologise.

“We expect Iran… to bring the guilty to the courts,” the Ukrainian leader wrote on Facebook, calling for the “payment of compensation” and the return of remains.

“We hope the inquiry will be pursued without deliberate delay and without obstruction,” Zelensky added

He also urged “total access” to the full inquiry for 45 Ukrainian experts and in a tweet also sought an “official apology”.

Canada: ‘Transparency, Justice’

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with the country mourning the loss of many of its nationals, said closure and accountability were needed after Iran’s announcement.

He demanded “transparency, and justice for the families and loved ones of the victims.

“This is a national tragedy, and all Canadians are mourning together,” Trudeau’s office said in a statement.

Russia: ‘Must Learn Lessons’

Iran must “learn lessons” from the disaster, the chairman of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee said.

“If decryption of the black boxes and the work of the investigation do not prove that the Iranian army did this intentionally, and there are no logical reasons for this, the incident must be closed.

“Hoping that lessons will be learned and action taken by all parties,” Konstantin Kosachev was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

France: ‘End Escalation’

French Defence Minister Florence Parly said it was “important to seize this moment to give space to discussions and negotiations” on the Iran nuclear deal.

“The lessons that we should learn from the dramatic sequence of events that we have experienced… is that we must put an end to this escalation,” Parly told France Inter radio.

She reiterated the French position that everything must be done to salvage the landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, which US President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018.

Germany: ‘Draw The Right Consequences’

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said “it was important that Iran brought clarity to this issue.

“Now Tehran needs to draw the right consequences in the continued appraisal of this dreadful catastrophe, and take measures to ensure that something like this cannot happen again,” Mass told Funke media.

AFP

NATO Chief Backs Assessment That Iran Missile Downed Ukrainian Plane

 

 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Friday he had no reason to doubt reports from Western capitals suggesting an Iranian missile brought down a Ukrainian airliner, killing 176 people.

“I will not go into details about our intelligence but what I can say is we have no reason to not believe the reports we have seen from different NATO-allied capitals,” Stoltenberg said.

Canada and Britain have both said Iran shot down the plane outside Tehran, possibly mistakenly.

Ukraine Calls for ‘Evidence’ In Iran Plane Crash Probe

An engine lies on the ground after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. The Boeing 737 had left Tehran’s international airport bound for Kiev, semi-official news agency ISNA said, adding that 10 ambulances were sent to the crash site.
AFP

 

Ukraine asked international partners to provide any evidence they may have to help investigators probing a Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed in Iran, as US media reported it was mistakenly shot down by a missile.

All 176 people on board died when Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Boeing 737NG went down on Wednesday, 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.

“If any country has information that can help conduct a transparent and objective investigation into the tragedy, we are ready to receive it and cooperate in further verification,” the Ukraine presidency said in an English-language statement.

“Ukraine is interested in finding the truth. Therefore, I ask all our international partners: if you have any evidence to assist the investigation, please provide it.”

READ ALSO: UK PM Says Information Suggests Ukraine Jet Hit By Iran Missile

Investigators are pursuing several leads following the crash of the Ukrainian passenger plane in Iran, including a surface-to-air missile strike, an act of terror and engine failure, Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council (RNBO), told AFP earlier Thursday.

The council is tasked with coordinating the probe into the disaster, the first fatal crash involving Ukraine’s biggest carrier UIA.

US President Donald Trump said Thursday he had “suspicions” about the crash as unnamed officials told American media that Iranian air defence systems likely accidentally shot down the airliner.

Newsweek, CBS, and CNN said that satellite, radar, and electronic data indicated the tragic error, which followed a ballistic missile barrage by Iran on two military bases in Iraq where US troops work.

UK PM Says Information Suggests Ukraine Jet Hit By Iran Missile

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to the media on November 30, 2019.  SIMON DAWSON / POOL / AFP

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday that there was now “a body of information” that the Ukrainian Boeing 747 that crashed in Iran, killing all 176 people aboard, was brought down by an Iranian missile.

His comments follow a similar message by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“There is now a body of information that the flight was shot down by an Iranian Surface to Air Missile. This may well have been unintentional,” Johnson said in a statement on the air disaster in which four British passengers died.

Johnson reiterated the call for “all sides urgently to de-escalate to reduce tensions in the region.”

The Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Boeing 737NG went down on Wednesday, 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.

“We are working closely with Canada and our international partners and there now needs to be a full, transparent investigation,” into the plane crash, Johnson added.

The British PM also called for “an immediate and respectful repatriation of those who’ve lost their lives to allow their families to grieve properly”.

Iran Civil Aviation Boss ‘Certain’ Ukraine Plane Not Hit By Missile

 

Iran’s civil aviation chief Ali Abedzadeh said Friday he was “certain” a Ukrainian airliner which crashed outside Tehran this week was not hit by a missile.

READ ALSO: US Strike Kills Taliban Splinter Commander In Herat

“One thing is for certain, this airplane was not hit by a missile,” Abedzadeh told a news conference in Tehran after Britain and Canada both said intelligence sources suggested a catastrophic error by Iranian air defence batteries had downed the aircraft.

Iranian Missile Brought Down Airliner, Says Canadian PM

Minister of National Denfence Harjit Sajjan (C) and Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance (R) listen as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) speaks during a news conference on January 9, 2020, in Ottawa, Canada. DAVE CHAN / AFP

 

 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday multiple intelligence sources indicate that Iran shot down a Ukrainian airliner after it took off from Tehran, killing all 176 onboard, including 63 Canadians.

Trudeau’s comments came as video emerged that appeared to show the moment the airliner was hit.

That and other footage posted on social media increasingly pointed to a catastrophic mistake by Tehran’s air defense batteries in bringing down Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 early Wednesday.

The video, which The New York Times said it verified, shows a fast-moving object rising at an angle into the sky before a bright flash is seen, which dims and then continues moving forward. Several seconds later an explosion is heard.

Citing information from allies as well as Canada’s own intelligence, Trudeau said the plane appeared to have been hit by an Iranian surface-to-air (SAM) missile.

“We know this may have been unintentional. Canadians have questions, and they deserve answers,” Trudeau told reporters.

He was backed by other Western leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who said mounting evidence supported a missile strike, which “may well have been unintentional.”

US President Donald Trump indicated that Washington officials believed the Kiev-bound Boeing 737 was struck by one or more Iranian missiles before it ditched and exploded outside Tehran.

The US National Transportation Safety Board late Thursday said it had received formal notification of the crash from Iran and would send a representative to join the crash probe.

Iran’s foreign ministry earlier invited the US planemaker Boeing to “participate” in the inquiry.

The flight went down in the dark just minutes after takeoff, with no radio message from the pilot to indicate distress, according to the Iranian Civil Aviation Organization.

It was carrying 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans, and three Britons.

With tensions high between the United States and Iran, the disaster unfolded just hours after Tehran launched ballistic missiles towards bases in Iraq housing US troops.

Iran retaliated for the January 3 US drone strike in Baghdad that killed a top Iranian general.

The Iranian government said the missile strike scenario made “no sense,” however, arguing that several internal and international flights had been sharing approximately the same airspace.

Tehran later asked Ottawa to share its information with Iranian investigators.

‘Canadians want answers’

Trudeau said Canada was working with allies to ensure a credible probe.

“The families of the victims want answers, Canadians want answers, I want answers,” he said.

“This government will not rest until we get that.”

Canada’s transportation safety board on Thursday said it had accepted an invitation from Iran’s civil aviation authority to join the inquiry.

Britain’s Johnson called Thursday for a full, transparent investigation.

‘I have my suspicions’

Trump would not directly confirm what US intelligence was saying privately.

“I have my suspicions,” Trump said, adding that “somebody could have made a mistake.”

But unnamed officials told US media that satellite, radar, and electronic data indicated Tehran’s air defense units downed the aircraft.

ABC News reported that an unnamed official said it was “highly likely” the plane was brought down by two SAMs.

Black boxes

Ukraine called for United Nations support for a broad investigation and sent 45 crash investigators to Tehran to take part in the inquiry led by Iranian authorities.

Investigators are pursuing several possibilities, including engine failure, a missile strike or an act of terror.

“If any country has information that can help conduct a transparent and objective investigation into the tragedy, we are ready to receive it and cooperate in further verification,” the Ukraine presidency said in an English-language statement.

Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran’s civil aviation organization and deputy transport minister, said Iran and Ukraine were “downloading information” from the aircraft’s black boxes retrieved from the crash site.

“But if more specialized work is required to extract and analyze the data, we can do it in France or another country,” he said.

Analysts were examining photographs posted online of the wreckage and a private video apparently taken of the flight when it was struck for evidence that it was downed by a missile.

“I think this has a very good possibility of being accurate,” John Goglia, a former US aviation safety expert on the National Transportation Safety Board, said of the missile theory.

“Airplanes that have just taken off and have made a climb to 8,000 feet, that’s entering the safest period of time in the flight. So even an engine failure at that altitude should not cause the type of event we’ve just observed,” he told AFP.

The Ukrainian airline crash brought back memories of another tragedy, involving a US military error.

In 1988, an Iran Air flight was mistakenly shot down over the Gulf by a surface-to-air missile fired from the US warship USS Vincennes.

All 290 people aboard, most of them Iranians, were killed.

Iran Says Ukrainian Plane Turned Back Before Crashing

An engine lies on the ground after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. AFP

 

Iranian authorities have said a Ukrainian airliner, which crashed outside Tehran with the loss of all 176 people on board, 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 troops 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 onboard the plane which grew in intensity,” the organisation added, reporting the first findings of its investigation into the crash.

The organisation said it had questioned witnesses both on the ground and onboard a second aircraft which was flying above the Ukrainian Boeing 737 as the disaster unfolded.

Santa doll in the wreckage

Heartbreaking details started emerging about the victims, most of them from Iran and 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.

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.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered his “sincere condolences” to the bereaved families.

No cooperation with US

Iran’s civil aviation chief, Ali Abedzadeh, said Iran would cooperate with Ukraine, but not send the black boxes to the United States, with which it has had no diplomatic relations for four decades.

Without naming Iran directly, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement calling for “complete cooperation with any investigation into the cause of the crash”.

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”.

The country is home to a large Iranian diaspora, and UIA offers relatively inexpensive flights between Toronto and Tehran, with a layover in Kiev.

UIA, the ex-Soviet country’s privately owned main carrier, said flight PS752 took off from Tehran airport at 6:10 am and disappeared from radars minutes later.

It slammed into farmland at Khalaj Abad, in Shahriar county, about 45 kilometres (just under 30 miles) northwest of the airport, Iranian state media said.

A video aired by Iran’s state broadcaster appeared to show the plane already on fire as it fell.

The airline said the Boeing 737 had been built in 2016 and checked only two days before the accident. It was UIA’s first fatal crash.