Iran vows to punish Israel for deadly strike on embassy annex

Iran warned its arch foe Israel on Tuesday that it will retaliate for an air strike that killed seven Revolutionary Guards, two of them generals, and destroyed its consular annex building in the Syrian capital.

Rescue workers search in the rubble of a building annexed to the Iranian embassy a day after an air strike in Damascus. (AFP)

Israel declined to comment on Monday’s strike in Damascus, which fuelled Middle East tensions already inflamed by the Gaza war and violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

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Iranian state media said 13 people were killed in the strike in which, according to Tehran’s ambassador, Israeli F-35 fighter-jets fired six missiles that levelled the five-storey consular building adjacent to the embassy.

The building was reduced to a mountain of rubble by the blasts which blew out windows in nearby buildings and incinerated cars parked on the roadside in a leafy and upscale suburb of the city.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed that Israel “will be punished at the hands of our brave men. We will make them regret this crime and the other ones.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi condemned the attack as a “clear violation of international regulations” which “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.

The UN Security Council was to discuss the strike later Tuesday at a meeting requested by Syrian ally Russia.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations warned that the strike could “potentially ignite more conflict involving other nations” and called on the Security Council “to condemn this unjustified criminal act”.

– Guards generals killed –

Iran said the strike killed seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members, including two commanders of its Quds Force foreign operations arm, Brigadier Generals Mohammad Reza Zahedi and Mohammad Hadi Haji Rahimi.

Zahedi, 63, had held a succession of commands in the force in a Guards career spanning more than four decades.

State news agency IRNA said the funeral ceremony of the IRGC members will be held on Friday coinciding with the annual Quds Day, which will see Iranian people taking to streets in support of Palestinians and against Israel.

A monitor of the more than decade-old Syrian conflict, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the strike killed 14 people, none of them civilians — eight Iranians, one Lebanese and five pro-Iran Syrian fighters.

Israel has long fought a shadow war of assassinations and sabotage against Iran and its armed allies, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other militant groups.

Regional tensions have flared since the Gaza war erupted with Hamas’s 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 offensive against Hamas has killed nearly 33,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged daily cross-border fire since the war broke out, and Israel has also been blamed for multiple other strikes there and in Syria.

Hamas condemned the Damascus strike, which it described as a “dangerous escalation” in the wider conflict.

– ‘Message to America’ –

Iran has also charged that the United States, Israel’s main backer, bore responsibility, even as an unidentified US official quoted by the news site Axios insisted Washington “had no involvement” or advanced knowledge of it.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian said on X that the ministry had summoned a diplomat from the Swiss embassy, which looks after US interests in Iran.

“An important message was sent to the American government as the supporter of the Zionist regime,” he said in the post. “America must be held accountable.”

At the blast site in Damascus, the facade of the Iranian embassy is adorned with a large portrait of Qasem Soleimani, a veteran Quds Force chief who was killed in a US drone strike just outside Baghdad airport in January 2020.

Iran’s allies voiced support for its position.

“China condemns the attack,” foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, adding “the security of diplomatic institutions cannot be violated, and Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity should be respected”.

Iraq’s foreign ministry condemned the attack as a “flagrant violation of international law” and warned of “more chaos and instability” in the region.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah group warned Israel would pay for killing Guards commanders, saying “this crime will not pass without the enemy receiving punishment and revenge”.

Russia blamed the Israeli air force for the “unacceptable attack against the Iranian consular mission in Syria”.

EU spokesman Peter Stano said that “in this highly tense regional situation, it is really of utmost importance to show restraint because the further escalation in the region is in no one’s interests”.

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