Tue, 16 Jul 2019

Iran and the United States are disputing the circumstances around the downing of a U.S. military drone, raising fears of a military confrontation amid heightened tensions between the two.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said on June 20 that it had shot down a U.S. 'spy' drone that had turned off its tracking equipment as it flew over the southern province of Hormozgan -- saying the flight was a clear crossing of 'our red line.'

U.S. Central Command confirmed that Iran had shot down a U.S. drone, but insisted the aircraft was flying in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.

U.S. officials said the downed aircraft was a Navy MQ-4C Triton drone, which has the wingspan of a Boeing 737.

The reports follow an earlier statement by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which claimed to have shot down a U.S. drone.

However, the IRGC said the act occurred over Iran's southern province of Hormozgan, while the U.S. sources claimed the drone was in international airspace when it was shot out of the sky.

'It was shot down when it entered Iran's airspace near the Kouhmobarak District in the south,' the IRGC's Sepah News website said.

Kouhmobarak is 1,200 kilometers southeast of Tehran and near the tense Strait of Hormuz.

The IRNA state-run news agency identified the drone as a RQ-4 Global Hawk.

The reports come amid soaring tensions between Washington and Tehran, raising fears of a potential armed conflict in the region.

Recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and near the Strait of Hormuz have exacerbated the situation, with Washington blaming Iran for the incidents. Tehran denies any involvement.

Iran's Foreign Ministry came out with a strongly worded statement condemning such a "provocative" incursion into the country's airspace.

'Any such violations of Iran's borders are strongly condemned ... We warn of the consequences of such illegal and provocative measures,' ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, according to state television.

Meanwhile, Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen claimed they had struck a power station in Al-Shuqaiq city in Saudi Arabia's Jizan Province with a cruise missile.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump had been 'briefed on the reports of a missile strike in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.'

'We are closely monitoring the situation and continuing to consult with our partners and allies,' Sanders said.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, Fox News and Reuters

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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