TEHERAN • Iran's Revolutionary Guards chief briefed Parliament yesterday over the killing of a top general by the United States, Teheran's retaliation and the subsequent downing of an airliner, ISNA news agency said.
Major-General Hossein Salami addressed the members of the Majles in a closed session, the semi-official news agency reported.
Maj-Gen Salami had been due to explain the killing of Major-General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Guards' foreign operations arm, in a Jan 3 US drone strike in Baghdad, ISNA reported as the session got under way.
The Guards chief had been expected to speak about Iran's retaliation to the killing of the general last Wednesday when it fired a volley of missiles at US troops stationed in Iraqi military bases, it said.
ISNA said Maj-Gen Salami was also expected to address Members of Parliament about the accidental downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, which killed all 176 people on board.
Those killed in the air disaster were mainly Iranians and Canadians, including dual nationals. Many were students.
Iran said on Saturday that the plane was mistakenly shot down last Wednesday morning, hours after the missiles were fired at Iraq.
The Islamic republic's armed forces said its air defences had been at a heightened state of alert at the time and that the missile operator who fired at the plane acted independently.
Following yesterday's session, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani asked the Majles' security and foreign policy commission to examine the "grave incident" and how to prevent such disasters from occurring again.
The closed-session testimony came after the temporary arrest last Saturday of Britain's Ambassador to Teheran Rob Macaire, shortly after he left a vigil for the air disaster victims that turned into a protest.
"Can confirm I wasn't taking part in any demonstrations! Went to an event advertised as a vigil for victims of #PS752 tragedy," Mr Macaire said on Twitter, adding he had been detained half an hour after leaving the area.
"Normal to want to pay respects - some of victims were British. I left after five minutes, when some started chanting," he said.
"Arresting diplomats is of course illegal, in all countries," he added.
The British government said Mr Macaire was arrested and detained briefly in the Iranian capital in what it called a "flagrant violation of international law".
But Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister said yesterday that Mr Macaire was freed soon after being identified.
"He wasn't detained, but arrested as unknown foreigner in an illegal gathering," Mr Seyed Abbas Araghchi tweeted.
Mr Araghchi said when police informed him that a man who was arrested claimed to be the British ambassador, he did not believe them.
But he said that once he spoke to Mr Macaire by phone, he realised it was him, and that the ambassador was freed 15 minutes later.
Mr Alaeddin Boroujerdi, a member of Iran's parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, nevertheless accused the ambassador of organising protests and called for his expulsion.
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, was in Iran for talks with senior officials. Sheikh Tamim said that de-escalation and dialogue were needed to resolve regional crises at a "sensitive" time.
Qatar has often served as a mediator between the US and Iran, which have no diplomatic relations.
Syria's Prime Minister Imad Khamis was also leading a high-level delegation to Iran, which includes the defence and foreign ministers.
Syrian state media described it as an important visit in the light of recent events, without elaborating.
Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country's civil war, and Maj-Gen Soleimani had mobilised militias and coordinated military aid.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was also travelling to Iran, with plans to visit Saudi Arabia the following day.
Iranian media, meanwhile, focused on the admission of responsibility for the crash, with several newspapers calling for those responsible to apologise and resign.
The hardline daily Vatan-e Emrouz bore the front-page headline, "A sky full of sadness", while the Hamshahri daily went with "Shame" and the Iran daily said "Unforgivable".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Iran's changing stance: 3 days of denials, then the admission
They are spreading propaganda that the Ukrainian flight was targeted. This is ridiculous. Most of the passengers on this flight were our valued young Iranian men and women. Whatever we do, we do it for the protection and defence of our country and our people.
A SPOKESMAN FOR IRAN'S ARMED FORCES, BRIGADIER-GENERAL ABOLFAZL SHEKARCHI
"Had it been the case (that a missile had struck), the plane must have exploded up in the air, but that has not happened, because the plane caught fire due to a technical failure. The problem first caused its communication and control systems to stop working, and subsequently resulted in its crash.
IRANIAN MINISTER OF ROAD AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT MOHAMMAD ESLAMI
What is obvious for us, and what we can say with certainty, is that no missile hit the plane... We cannot just give you speculation... If they are certain and have the courage, they should share any finding that has scientific and technical backing.
IRAN CIVIL AVIATION ORGANISATION CHIEF ALI ABEDZADEH
Armed Forces' internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people. Investigations continue to identify & prosecute this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake. #PS752
IRANIAN PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI, on Twitter.
I take full responsibility and I will obey whatever decision is taken. I would prefer to die rather than witness such an incident. Given the information provided to the (missile) operator that it was a war situation and cruise missiles had been fired, this person identified this as a (missile). If there was any mistake, one of our (personnel) had made a mistake and as he was under our command the responsibility is with us. We must be answerable.
BRIGADIER-GENERAL AMIR ALI HAJIZADEH, the head of the Revolutionary Guard's aerospace division.