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Seven Revolutionary Guards officers killed in Syria attack

Iran accuses Israel, vows revenge

April 03, 2024 00:00:00

An excavator clears rubble on Tuesday after a suspected Israeli strike on Monday on Iran's consulate, adjacent to the main Iranian embassy building in the Syrian capital Damascus — Reuters

DAMASCUS, Apr 02 (BBC/Reuters): Iran's Revolutionary Guards say seven officers have been killed in an Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate building in Syria's capital, Damascus.

Brig-Gen Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander of the elite Quds Force, and Brig-Gen Mohammad Hadi Haji-Rahimi, his deputy, were named among the dead.

Iran and Syria's governments condemned the attack, which destroyed a building next door to the Iranian embassy. The Israeli military said it did not comment on foreign media reports.

However, it has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of strikes in recent years on targets in Syria that it says are linked to Iran and allied armed groups which are armed, funded and trained by the Revolutionary Guards.

Iran vowed on Tuesday to take revenge on Israel for an airstrike that killed two of its top generals and five other military advisers at the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus, underlining the risk of further escalation after the unprecedented attack.

Conflict has rippled across the Middle East since the onset of the Gaza war; until now, Tehran has carefully avoided direct conflict with Israel while backing allies attacking Israeli and U.S. targets.

The Israeli strikes have reportedly been stepped up since the start of the war in Gaza in October last year, in response to cross-border attacks on northern Israel by Hezbollah and other Iran-backed groups in Lebanon and Syria.

But Monday's attack will be seen as a serious escalation. The Israelis appear to be testing the resolve of the Iranians and their allies and signalling that they are serious about increasing pressure on their enemies.

The Israelis are looking at the fact that both Iran and Hezbollah have not been pushing as hard as some might expect. Now they will see if Iran and Hezbollah are going to push back.

There will be a response, but it may not be the one people expect. Rather than missiles, it may be some sort of cyber-attack.

Syria's defence ministry said Israeli aircraft targeted the Iranian consulate building, which was on a highway in the western Mezzeh district of Damascus, from the direction of the occupied Golan Heights at about 17:00 local time (14:00 GMT) on Monday.

Syrian air defences shot down some of the missiles they launched, but others made it through and "destroyed the entire building, killing and injuring everyone inside", the ministry added.

The ministry said work was under way to recover the bodies and rescue the wounded from beneath the rubble, without saying how many casualties there were or naming any of them.

Photos and videos from the scene showed smoke and dust rising from the remains of the collapsed multi-storey building. The Iranian embassy next door did not appear to have sustained any significant damage.

The Iranian ambassador, Hossein Akbari, said Israeli F-35 fighter jets "brutally targeted my place of residence and the consular section of the embassy, along with Iran's military attaches". He told Iranian state TV that between five and seven people were killed, including some diplomats.

Later, the Revolutionary Guards put out a statement saying that seven of its officers were killed, including Brig-Gen Mohammad Reza Zahedi and Brig-Gen Mohammad Hadi Haji-Rahimi, whom it described as commanders and "senior military advisers".

Iranian media said Zahedi, 63, was a senior figure in the Quds Force - the Revolutionary Guards' overseas operations arm - and served as commander in Lebanon and Syria between 2008 and 2016. Haji-Rahimi was meanwhile identified as Zahedi's deputy.

Zahedi is one of the most high-profile Iranian figures believed to have been killed by Israel in the country's long campaign of targeted assassinations.

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