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U.S. Intercepts Iranian Passenger Plane Over Syria

An Airbus A340-600 airplane of Mahan Air is seen at Simon Bolivar International Airport outside Caracas, April 8, 2019

The U.S. military said July 23 it intercepted an Iranian civilian airliner over Syria, after Iranian media reported passengers were injured when the pilot was forced to maneuver to avoid a collision.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. operations in the Middle East, said a F-15 fighter jet “conducted a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner at a safe distance of approximately 1,000 meters” while on a routine air mission near At Tanf in Syria.

The U.S. military has a small desert base at At Tanf near the border with Jordan and Iraq.

“The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at At Tanf garrison,” U.S. Central Command spokesman Bill Urban said. “Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft.”

“The professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards,” he added.

The statement came after Iranian state broadcaster IRIB reported that the Tehran to Beirut bound flight had been intercepted by two Israeli fighter jets.

IRIB television channel aired unverified amateur footage of passengers on board screaming as the pilot reduced the altitude of the flight. It reported some passengers were injured.

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency quoted civil aviation sources as saying that an aircraft believed to be affiliated with the U.S.-led coalition intercepted the Iranian civilian plane.

The head of Beirut airport, Fadi al-Hassan, told local Lebanese broadcaster New Television that the Iranian plane landed in the Lebanese capital in the evening.

"All the passengers are well, but some suffered from minor wounds...most suffered from shock and fear," al-Hassan said.

Israel and the United States have long accused Mahan Air of shipping weapons and fighters to the Lebanese militant group Hizballah and Iran-linked groups in Syria and the region.

The United States imposed sanctions on Mahan Air in 2011.

With reporting by SANA, AFP, dpa, and Reuters