Facing major sanctions and bans on the use of airspace, Belarus now says militant group Hamas is to blame for the bomb scare that forced a passenger plane to make an emergency landing in Minsk.
But Hamas, which has no history of mounting operations outside Israel and Palestine, has denied any involvement.
Belarus’ attempts to explain away the emergency landing hasn’t helped deflect blame from President Alexander Lukashenko who is accused of hijacking the Ryanair flight so authorities could arrest a dissident journalist.
The plane made the unscheduled landing in Minsk on Monday morning (Australian time), allowing authorities to arrest Roman Protasevich who has been a vocal critic of Mr Lukashenko.
The foreign ministry’s spokesman said Belarus had acted in line with international regulations when it scrambled a warplane to escort the Ryanair flight on Monday.
A senior transport official read out what he said was the text of the supposed bomb threat.
“We, the soldiers of Hamas, demand that Israel cease fire in the Gaza Strip. We demand that the European Union withdraw its support for Israel in this war,” the head of the transport ministry’s aviation department said.
“There is a bomb on that plane. If you do not comply with our demands, the bomb will explode over Vilnius on 23 May,” he said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the group “has nothing to do with that completely”.
“We don’t resort to these methods, which could be the doing of some suspicious parties that aim to demonise Hamas and foil the state of world sympathy with our Palestinian people and their legitimate resistance,” the Hamas spokesman said.
The Palestinian militants and Israel are in the fourth day of a ceasefire after 11 days of hostilities, the worst outbreak in fighting between Israel and Hamas in years.
German leader Chancellor Angela Merkel said Belarus’ claim was “completely implausible”.
European Union members met at a summit in Brussels to discuss the incident, and have agreed on a set of sanctions against the former Soviet republic.
That includes a ban on the use of the 27-member bloc’s airspace and airports.
The EU leaders also decided to slap individual sanctions on officials linked to the operation and called on the International Civil Aviation Organisation to start an investigation into what they see as an unprecedented move and what some have called state terrorism.
The decisions at the summit will now be turned into action as soon as legal proceedings allow.
The Belarusian foreign ministry spokesman said Minsk would guarantee full transparency in the case and would also be prepared to allow foreign experts to be involved in an investigation.