An Iranian flag hangs from a pole in front of the debris as emergency and security personnel gather after Israeli strikes hit a part of the Iranian embassy in Syria’s capital, on Monday evening.—AFP
An Iranian flag hangs from a pole in front of the debris as emergency and security personnel gather after Israeli strikes hit a part of the Iranian embassy in Syria’s capital, on Monday evening.—AFP

DAMASCUS: A part of Iran’s consulate in the Syrian capital was flattened on Monday by what was described as an Israeli air strike, a startling apparent escalation of conflict in the Middle East that would pit Israel against Iran and its allies.

The Israeli air strikes destroyed the Iranian embassy’s consular annex, killing and wounding everyone inside, Damascus said as Iranian state TV reported a Revolutionary Guards commander among the dead.

Monday’s attack was the first time the vast embassy compound itself had been hit, and comes amid soaring tensions over Tel Aviv’s war in Gaza and intensifying violence between Israel and Iran’s allies.

UK-based war monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said eight people, including several Guards members, were killed when “Israeli missiles… destroyed the building of an annex to the Iranian embassy”.

Revolutionary Guard commander among eight killed in strike; Tehran says it reserves the right to respond

Iran’s ambassador to Syria, Hossein Akbari, giving a lower death toll, told Iranian state TV that “at least five people were killed in the attack which was carried out by F-35 fighter jets”.

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

Reuters reporters at the scene saw smoke rising from rubble of a building that had been flattened, and emergency vehicles parked outside.

An Iranian flag hung from a pole in front of the debris. The Syrian interior and foreign ministers were both spotted at the scene.

Security forces shielded the site where earth-moving equipment was brought in to clear the debris and remove charred vehicles from the road outside, watched by a crowd of onlookers.

Syria’s defence ministry said “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”.

Iranian state TV said among those killed was a senior commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ foreign operations arm, the Quds Force, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi.

The Observatory said it had “confirmed the killing of a high-ranking leader who served as the leader of the Quds Force for Syria and Lebanon, two Iranian advisers, and five members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard”.

Israel has repeatedly hit Iranian targets during the six-month war in Gaza and typically does not comment about its attacks on Syria. Asked about the strike, an Israeli military spokesperson said: “We do not comment on reports in the foreign media”.

When asked about the attack, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said: “I am not going to comment with respect to this strike as we do need to know more.”

‘Heinous attack’

Iran preserves the right to take reciprocal actions against the Israeli attack in Damascus on its consulate, the country’s foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on Monday, according to state media.

“Tehran will decide on “the type of response and punishment against the aggressor,” Mr Kanaani added.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad also denounced the attack after visiting the site.

“We strongly condemn this heinous terrorist attack that targeted the Iranian consulate building in Damascus killing a number of innocent people,” Mekdad said in a statement carried by SANA.

Iran’s ambassador, Akbari, said that “the Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate shows the reality of the Zionist entity which recognises no international laws and does all that is inhumane to achieve its goals”.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian called for a “serious response by the international community”.

Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2024

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