Belarus said that a false threat of a bomb pushed a passenger plane into Minsk, where authorities arrested a journalist on board, who wrote in the name of the Palestinian Hamas movement.
On Monday, the authorities issued what they said was the text of the bomb warning as officials sought to defuse the growing international protest against what Western capitals described as an act of “state piracy.”
Reuters news agency reported that Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denied that the group had any knowledge or connection.
Minsk rushed a warplane to escort a Ryanair plane on Sunday, announcing a bomb warning that had been proven wrong once the plane suddenly landed in Belarus as authorities arrested Roman Protasevich, a journalist critical of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Western governments are threatening to impose new sanctions on the ex-Soviet republic led by Lukashenko for diverting flight routes from Greece to Lithuania while flying through Belarusian airspace.
White House press secretary Jane Sackey said US President Joe Biden had been briefed on the incident and that the National Security Agency, Jake Sullivan, raised the issue in his call with the secretary of the Russian Security Council.
She added that the administration condemns what it described as the “shocking act” of diverting a flight to arrest a journalist.
It constitutes a blatant affront to international peace and security by the regime. We call for an immediate, transparent and credible international investigation into this incident, “adding that the United States is in contact with NATO, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, among others, about the next steps.
Condemnation of the European Union
European Union leaders were particularly harsh in their condemnation of the arrest and action against the aircraft, which was flying between two member states of the bloc and was operated by an Ireland-based airline, which is also a member.
The bloc summoned the ambassador of Belarus “to condemn the unacceptable move of the Belarusian authorities” and said in a statement that the arrest was once again “another blatant attempt to silence all voices of opposition in the country.”
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda urged the European Union to take “clear measures to change the pattern of behavior of this extremely dangerous regime,” and said that the EU summit scheduled for Monday will assess whether to close its airspace to Belarusian airlines, and declare Belarusian airspace. As insecure and expanded sanctions against the Lukashenko government.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the “unprecedented action” of the Belarusian authorities and demanded the immediate release of Protasevic and his girlfriend Sophia Sabega.
“The scandalous incident in Belarus shows signs of state terrorism, which is unbelievable,” said Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she amounted to “kidnapping”.
Without waiting for the European Union, Latvia’s airBaltic said it would avoid Belarusian airspace, and the Lithuanian government said it would issue instructions for all flights to and from the Baltic country to avoid Belarus from Tuesday.
British Transport Secretary Grant Shaps said he had instructed the British Civil Aviation Authority “to require airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace in order to preserve the safety of passengers.” He added that he was suspending the permit allowing the Belarusian airline Belavia to operate in the United Kingdom.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ordered officials to move to cut off the air route with Belarus and ban Ukrainian flights through its airspace.
Hamas rejects the claim
In Minsk, a foreign ministry spokesman said Belarus had acted in line with international regulations, and a senior transport official read out what he said had stipulated the bomb threat.
We, Hamas soldiers, demand that Israel cease fire in the Gaza Strip, and the head of the Aviation Department at the Ministry of Transportation said, “We demand the European Union to withdraw its support for Israel in this war.”
“There is a bomb on that plane. If it does not comply with our demands, the bomb will explode over Vilnius on May 23.
Hamas spokesman Barhoum said the movement “has nothing to do with that completely.”
The Palestinian movement and Israel are observing the fourth day of the ceasefire after 11 days of hostilities, the worst outbreak of fighting between Israel and Hamas in years.
A Hamas spokesman said, “We do not resort to these methods that could be the work of some suspicious parties that aim to demonize Hamas and thwart global sympathy with our Palestinian people and their legitimate resistance.”
Igor Golub, commander of the Belarusian Air Force, said that the Ryanair crew made the decision to switch to Minsk himself and that the combat aircraft was only sent to escort it after it had turned around to fly towards the Belarusian capital.
A spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that Minsk would ensure full transparency in the case and would also be ready to allow foreign experts to participate in the investigation.