Iran envoy denies any clearing of plane crash site
Images and videos shared on social media appeared to show bulldozers collecting the wreckage on Thursday, with footage shared on Friday appearing to show a completely cleared crash site.
Eyewitnesses told CBS News that a truck had taken "virtually all pieces of the plane" away from the site on Thursday, with "scavengers now picking [the] site clean" on Friday.
"No security. Not cordoned off. No sign of any investigators," correspondent Elizabeth Palmer said in a tweet.
Ukranian media later reported that a source within an investigative delegation despatched to the crash site on Thursday had also verified the site had been cleared.
Amid those reports, Iranian Ambassador Hamid Baeidinejad told Sky News the claims were "absolutely absurd".
"We should be very careful to let the experts see and in fact verify first the black box, which is the most important element to help us to have the full story," Baeidinejad said, referring to a video published by the New York Times on Thursday allegedly showing a surface-to-air missile hitting the Ukrainian plane.
"We have the hard evidence on the ground," he added.
When questioned about reports the crash site had been bulldozed, Baeidinejad at first questioned the "judgement" of the CBS crew, adding: "Plane accidents are a very technical issue.
"I cannot judge, you cannot judge, reporters on the ground cannot judge. Nobody can judge. A foreign minister or a prime minister cannot judge," the ambassador said. "The experts are the people who can go and find the black box and the hard evidence on the ground."
After being questioned against about the alleged bulldozing, Baeidinejad said: "This is absolutely absurd".
Western leaders and officials from the US, UK, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands have all said it is "likely" the Ukraine International Airlines flight was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, possibly accidentally.
The crash occurred just hours after Tehran launched ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq to avenge the killing of top general Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike last week.
Iranian officials have categorically denied the reports, with government spokesman Ali Rabiei calling the claims "psychological warfare against Iran" and equivalent to rubbing "salt on a painful wound" for the families of the victims.
Russia has also backed Tehran, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov saying on Friday he saw "no reason" to blame Iran over the disastrous crash.
Ukraine has yet to deliberate over the cause of the crash, but has said it is considering all options.
Ukrainian experts gained access to the black box flight recorders of the plane, Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said on Friday.
All 176 people on board the plane were killed in the crash.
Follow us on Twitter and Instagram to stay connected