Saturday, April 20, 2024

Eight killed as Israel strikes Iran embassy annex in Damascus

Eight killed as Israel strikes Iran embassy annex in Damascus
April 1, 2024 Web Desk

DAMASCUS, Syria (AFP) - Israeli strikes hit an Iranian consulate annex in Syria's capital Monday, state media said, amid rising regional tensions due to the Gaza war, as a war monitor reported eight people were killed.

Iranian state media said a senior commander with Quds Force of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, was among the dead. It was the fifth strike in eight days to hit Syria, whose President Bashar al-Assad is widely supported by Iran and its allies.

There was no immediate comment from Israel, but the incident will further raise tensions as Israel has intensified its strikes on Iran-linked militant groups during its war in Gaza against Ha mas. Syria's official news agency SANA said "the Israeli attack targeted the Iranian consulate building in the Mazzeh neighbourhood of Damascus".

AFP correspondents at the scene confirmed the building next to the embassy, an annex, had been levelled, in an upscale neighbourhood of Damascus. AFP images showed a pile of rubble about two stories high beside a fenced compound.

Iranian media also reported that the strikes in Damascus completely destroyed the annex building, and that the ambassador was unharmed. "Hossein Akbari, ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Damascus, and his family were not harmed in the Israeli attack," Iran's Nour news agency said.

Britain-based group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said: "Israeli missiles... destroyed the building of an annex to the Iranian embassy... in Damascus, killing six people", in an initial toll it quickly raised to eight. Syria's defence ministry said there were many "wounded, killed" in an Israeli strike, and the Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad 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. SANA earlier reported that "our air defence systems confronted enemy targets in the vicinity of Damascus".

Israeli strikes on targets in Syria, mostly Syrian army positions as well as Iran-backed combatants including fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, have intensified since October when Israel began fighting Hezbollah-allied Hamas militants in the Gaza strip.

Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran, Israel's arch enemy. Hezbollah and Israeli forces have exchanged near-daily fire along the Lebanese border. The incident in Damascus came three days after the Observatory reported Israeli strikes that killed 53 people in Syria, including 38 soldiers and seven members of the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

It was the highest Syrian army toll in Israeli strikes since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7, 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.

"Israel warplanes hit targets in both countries almost daily in a sustained effort to destroy Hezbollah military infrastructure and to also tarnish the group's image," he said. "Israeli strikes have clearly escalated in size and depth" in Lebanon, he added.