02 Apr 2024, 10:52

Iran guards say 7 members killed in Israel strike on Syria consular annex

DAMASCUS, April 2, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Israeli air strikes destroyed the
Iranian embassy's consular annex in Damascus on Monday, Syrian and Iranian
officials said, with a top Revolutionary Guard commander among seven members
the force said were killed, amid worsening regional tensions.

Israel said it would not comment on the reported attack, but Iranian
officials vowed a stiff response, with fears of even further violence between
Israel and Iran's allies triggered by the Gaza war.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps named Brigadier General Mohammad
Reza Zahedi and another high-ranking officer, Brigadier General Mohammad Hadi
Haji Rahimi, as among seven of its members killed.

Britain-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11
people, including several Guards members, were killed when "Israeli
missiles... destroyed the building of an annex to the Iranian embassy".

The toll includes "eight Iranians, two Syrians and one Lebanese -- all of
them fighters, none of them civilians," Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the
Observatory with a network of sources in Syria, told AFP.

Iran's ambassador to Syria, Hossein Akbari, giving a lower toll, told Iranian
state TV that "at least five people were killed in the attack which was
carried out by F-35 fighter jets" that fired six missiles at the building.

AFP reporters saw the annex building had caved in, and emergency services
were searching for victims under the rubble as sirens wailed in the upscale
Damascus district of Mazzeh.

Security personnel shielded the site where earth-moving equipment was brought
in to clear debris and remove charred vehicles from the road as a crowd
gathered to watch.

Syria's defence ministry said that "the attack destroyed the entire building,
killing and injuring everyone inside, and work is underway to recover the
bodies and rescue the wounded from under the rubble".

- Regional tensions -

Only the gate of the building was left standing after the attack, with a sign
reading "the consular section of the embassy of Iran".

Window panes in buildings within a 500-metre (550 yard) radius had been
shattered, and many parked cars were damaged by the blast.

The targeted building is next to the Iranian embassy, the front of which is
decorated with a large portrait of Qassem Soleimani, the architect of Iran's
military operations in the Middle East, killed in January 2020 in an American
drone strike in Iraq.

The Damascus strikes were the fifth in a week to hit Syria, whose President
Bashar al-Assad is supported by Iran, Israel's long-time arch-foe in the
Iranian state TV said Zahedi -- a senior commander of the Islamic
Guard Corps' foreign operations arm, the Quds Force -- was among the dead.

The Observatory said Zahedi served as leader of the Quds Force for Palestine,
Syria and Lebanon, adding that he was killed along with his deputy, an aide
and the Quds force chief of staff for the same three countries.

Two other members of the Guards and two Iranian advisers were also killed in
the strike, the Observatory said.

Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group warned Tuesday that Israel would pay
for killing high-level Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

"This crime will not pass without the enemy receiving punishment and
revenge," Hezbollah said in a statement.

Iran's ambassador, Akbari, vowed the attack "will lead to our decisive

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Tuesday summoned the
Swiss Embassy's chief of mission, who serves as representative for the United
States in lieu of an American diplomatic mission in Tehran.

As Israel's main backer, "the Americans must take responsibility", Amir-
Abdollahian said, according to state news agency IRNA.

- 'Heinous attack' -
Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad also denounced the attack after
visiting the site, calling it a "heinous terrorist attack... killing a number
of innocent people", in a statement carried by SANA.

The Gaza war, which started with the October 7 Hamas attack on southern
Israel, has devastated the coastal territory and also seen Israel and
Hezbollah exchange near daily cross-border fire.

Israel has also struck targets in Syria, mostly army positions as well as
those of Iran-backed combatants.

Hamas condemned "in the strongest terms" the attack, which it called a
"dangerous escalation".

Moscow, a Damascus ally along with Tehran, blamed "the Israeli Air Force" for
the "unacceptable attack against the Iranian consular mission in Syria".

The UN Security Council will at Russia's request hold a public meeting on the
strike on Tuesday, according to representative Dmitry Polyansky.

The Damascus strike came three days after the Observatory reported Israeli
strikes had killed 53 people in Syria, including 38 soldiers and seven
members of Hezbollah.

It was the highest Syrian army toll in Israeli strikes since the Israel-Hamas
war began, said the monitor.

"Syria and Lebanon have become one extended battleground from the Israeli
perspective," Riad Kahwaji, head of the Institute for Near East and Gulf
Military Analysis, told AFP after the Friday strikes.

The Gaza war erupted with the Palestinian militants' unprecedented October 7
attack that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians,
according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory campaign, aimed at destroying Hamas, has killed at least
32,845 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health

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