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Rockets hit Iran; US, UK jets enter airspace

Three missiles fired by US jets taking part in attacks in Iraq landed over the border in southwestern Iran, Iran's official IRNA news agency said.

world Updated: Mar 23, 2003 00:16 IST

Three missiles fired by US jets taking part in attacks in Iraq landed over the border in southwestern Iran, Iran's official IRNA news agency said on Saturday.

Quoting an unnamed military commander, IRNA also said that US and British military jets violated the Islamic Republic's airspace several times on Friday and Saturday during operations against targets in southern Iraq.

"In two cases, rockets from American planes hit (south-western Iran)," the commander said. The rockets fell in the area of Maniuhi, close to the border with Iraq. The commander gave no further details and there were no reports of casualties or damage.

Another rocket hit an oil refinery depot on Friday evening in the city of Abadan, about 50 km (30 miles) east of the southern Iraqi city of Basra, government officials and witnesses told Reuters. Two guards at the depot were injured in the blast.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Phillip Reeker said the United States had told Iran it took the report of misfired missiles landing in Iranian territory seriously and would investigate.

"Today, we are sending a second message (to Tehran) through the Swiss confirming that we are looking into it," Reeker added. "We take seriously Iranian sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Earlier, a Pentagon official said the US military was investigating indications that a ship-launched American cruise missile went off course and perhaps landed in Iran.

"A lot of these things have been used since the air war started. While they are precisely guided, nothing is perfect," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

In London, British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said he could not confirm "suggestions that any of our missiles have gone astray into Iran".

"Those suggestions, obviously, are being investigated and we are continuing our contacts with the government there," he said.

Tehran has not publicly accused US-led forces of deliberately targeting Iran, suggesting that it considers the missiles were strays.

Torn by its enmity for both Iraq and the United States, Iran has condemned the US-led military attack on its western neighbour but vowed to remain neutral in the conflict.

US, UK warned over airspace

"Our border guards are on full alert," the military commander in the border town of Shalamcheh, northwest of Abadan, told IRNA.

Iranian officials had previously said it was not clear where the rocket, which hit the Abadan depot had come from.

But IRNA, quoting Abadan Governor Jamal Alami, also blamed US forces. "Last night an American plane fired a rocket... and it hit one of the depots," he said.

Oil industry sources, which declined to be named, said operations at Abadan's refinery were unaffected.

Iran's Foreign Ministry on Friday warned the ambassadors of Britain and Switzerland - which represents US interests in Iran - to respect its airspace.

But a local political analyst in Tehran, who asked not to be named, said it was unlikely that the rockets had originated from British or US forces.

"If you look at the trajectory of the military assault being carried out in Iraq by the British and Americans, these bombs would have been way off course, which just doesn't seem likely," he said.

He said another possibility was that the rockets came from Iraqi forces trying to shoot down US and British planes.

Iran has little sympathy for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who ordered the use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

But Tehran also has poor relations with Washington, which severed diplomatic ties with Iran shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution and last year included it in the "axis of evil" list along with Iraq and North Korea.

First Published: Mar 23, 2003 00:07 IST