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Iran says it has begun compensating victims' families over downed Ukrainian jet

Government allocated $150,000 to each of the families of the victims of an airliner shot down over Tehran two years ago
Rescue teams recover debris from a field near Tehran after a Ukrainian plane was shot down on 8 January 2020, killing all 176 people on board (AFP)

Iran has begun paying compensation to the families of those killed when it shot down a Ukrainian airliner two years ago, authorities said on Friday.

The transport ministry "has made payments to a number of the [victims'] families", the foreign ministry said in a statement marking the anniversary of the tragedy.

Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 was shot down shortly after take-off from Tehran on 8 January 2020, killing all 176 people aboard. Three days later, the Iranian armed forces admitted to downing the Kyiv-bound plane "by mistake".

Arash Khodaei, a vice president of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, said that "the sum of $150,000 has been transferred" to some families, while "the process has begun" for others. The payment "does not infringe upon [their] right to take legal action", state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.

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When Iran's government allocated $150,000 last month for the families of each of the victims, Ukrainian and Canadian officials strongly criticised the announcement, saying compensation should not be settled through unilateral declarations.

On Thursday, Ukraine, Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom said they had abandoned efforts to talk to Tehran about reparations.

Most of the 176 people killed were citizens from those four nations, which formed a group aiming to hold Tehran to account.

In a decision made public on Monday, a Canadian court awarded more than $80m in compensation to the families of six of the victims who had Canadian citizenship or residency. It was unclear how the money would be collected, but Ontario Superior Court Judge Edward Belobaba said "some level" of enforcement may be possible.

Iran's judiciary said in November that a trial had begun in Tehran of 10 military staff in connection with the jet's downing.

Tensions between Iran and the US were soaring at the time of the incident. Iranian air defences were on high alert for a US counterattack, after Tehran fired missiles at a military base in Iraq that was used by US forces.

Those missiles came in response to the killing of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who was killed by a US drone strike on the tarmac of Baghdad airport on 3 January 2020.

Over the past week, Tehran and its Middle East allies have held commemorations marking the second anniversary of Soleimani's assassination.