ROME – Pope Francis Monday sent condolences to Iran following a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahain, assuring of his prayers for their families and the nation.

In the telegram, the pope said, “I send condolences upon the deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahain, and all who perished in yesterday’s helicopter crash.”

“Entrusting the souls of the deceased to the mercy of the almighty, and with prayers for those who mourn their loss, especially their families, I send the assurance of spiritual closeness to the nation at this difficult time,” he said.

The May 20 telegram was addressed to Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Raisi, 63, and Abdollahain, 60, were among those who died in a May 19 helicopter crash in a mountainous area of northwestern of Iran near the border with Azerbaijan, Iran while returning from a meeting between Raisi and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and from the opening of the Qiz Qalasi and Khodaafarin dams.

Initial reports indicated the helicopter carrying the men and their entourage had made a hard landing in foggy conditions, however, subsequent reports confirmed the crash, with no survivors.

In the wake of the crash, Khamenei has announced five days of mourning, and local media report that elections for a new president have been scheduled for June 28.

Vice-President Mohammad Mokhber has taken over presidential duties in the interim, and deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani was appointed by Iran’s cabinet as acting foreign minister.

Raisi, a hardline cleric whose 2021 election consolidated conservative control of the Islamic Republic, had been favored as a potential successor to the supreme leader. His funeral was scheduled to be held Tuesday in Tabriz.

In addition to Pope Francis, several other world leaders have made statements or sent words of condolence, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying they would also observe a day of mourning, and stood ready to lend any support necessary.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also announced a national day of mourning and described Raisi and Abdollahian as “good friends of Iran.” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi voiced sadness and shock at the deaths, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called Raisi and Abdollahian “true, reliable friends of our country,” and Chinese President Xi Jinping lauded what he said were Raisi’s contributions to Iran’s security and stability.

The European Union expressed its “sincere condolences,” with and European Council President Charles Michel sending specific condolences to the families of those who perished.

Hamas officials in Palestine praised Raisi’s support for the group, and Lebanon’s Tehran-backed Hezbollah movement said it was mourning the death of its protector.

The White House, however, in a statement said Raisi was the architect of Iran’s support for “terrorist networks throughout the region” and that he had “a lot of blood on his hands.”

Raisi’s and Abdollahian’s deaths mark a significant blow for Iran, and could influence the ongoing war in Gaza, with many observers warning that it risks escalating into a broader regional conflict.

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