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File image of an Iranian Mahan Air passenger plane

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US intercepts Iranian passenger plane over Syria

File image of an Iranian Mahan Air passenger plane © AFP/File / MOHAMMED HUWAIS

Tehran, Iran, Jul 23 – The US said Thursday it had intercepted an Iranian passenger plane as it flew over Syria, after Iranian state television accused Israel of being behind the encounter.

US Central Command, which oversees US operations in the Middle East, said an “F-15 on a routine air mission… conducted a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner at a safe distance of approximately 1,000 meters from the airliner.”

“Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft,” Centcom said.

It added: “The professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards.”

The US statement came after IRIB television channel aired amateur footage of passengers on board screaming as the Mahan Air jetliner appeared to change course suddenly.

Another video apparently shot on a phone appeared to show at least two fighter jets flying beside the plane.

“While the (Iranian) plane was in the sky over Syria, the Zionist regime fighter jet approached the Mahan Airlines plane,” IRIB’s website reported.

“After this dangerous action by the Israeli fighter, the pilot of the commercial plane quickly reduced the altitude of the flight to avoid colliding with the Israeli fighter, injuring several passengers on board.”

The IRIB report called the incident “provocative and dangerous.”

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Syrian television and the official SANA news agency, quoting civil aviation sources, said that “planes believed to belong to the US-led coalition intercepted a civilian Iranian airplane in Syrian airspace in the Tanaf region, which forced the captain to undertake a sharp drop that led to light injuries among passengers.”

The plane, which had been en route from Tehran, continued on to Beirut as scheduled after the incident, the sources added.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011.

It has targeted Syrian government troops, allegedly allied Iranian forces and fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, claiming its goal is to end Tehran’s military presence in Syria.

It rarely confirms details of its operations in Syria.

The nine-year-old conflict in Syria has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced more than half of the country’s pre-war population.

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