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Iran says 7 Guards killed in Israel consulate strike

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DAMASCUS, Syria – 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 killed, the force said.

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

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps named Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi and another high-ranking officer, Brig. Gen. 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.

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Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi on Tuesday condemned a deadly air strike blamed on Israel against his country’s consular annex in Damascus, saying the “cowardly crime will not go unanswered.”

“After repeated defeats and failures against the faith and will of the Resistance Front fighters, the Zionist regime has put blind assassinations on its agenda in the struggle to save itself,” Raisi said on his office’s website.

“Day by day, we have witnessed the strengthening of the Resistance Front and the disgust and hatred of free nations towards the illegitimate nature of (Israel). This cowardly crime will not go unanswered.”

Meanwhile, China on Tuesday said it condemned Israeli air strikes that destroyed the consular annex at close ally Iran’s embassy in Damascus.

“China condemns the attack,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.

“The security of diplomatic institutions cannot be violated, and Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity should be respected,” he said.

“The current situation in the Middle East is turbulent and we oppose any actions that lead to an escalation of tensions,” Wang said.

The Israeli air strikes destroyed the Iranian embassy’s consular annex in Damascus, Syrian and Iranian officials said.

A top Revolutionary Guard commander was among seven members the force said were killed.

China is a close partner of Iran and its largest trade partner and a top buyer of its sanctioned oil.

Beijing also enjoys close ties with Damascus.

Iran’s ambassador to Syria, Hossein Akbari, told Iranian state TV that the attack “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 defense 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.”

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

Windows had shattered within a 500-meter radius 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 whose was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq in January 2020.

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 region.

Iranian state TV said Zahedi — a senior commander of the Islamic Revolutionary 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 region.

Two other Guards members 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 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 response”.

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.

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”.

The Gaza war, which started with the Oct. 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 ministry.

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