Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said two of its leading members including a spy chief were among four killed in an airstrike in Syria that it has blamed on Israel.
Dramatic video shows a towering column of smoke rising above Damascus, while pictures show a building razed to the fround. Local media have reported that the target was a residential building in the upmarket Mazzeh neighbourhood.
In a statement on Iranian state television, the Revolutionary Guards confirmed that four of its military advisers were killed, blaming Israel. State TV said the building, which is near a number of embassies, was the residence of Iranian advisers in Damascus.
There was no immediate comment from Israel, which has long pursued a bombing campaign against Iran-linked targets in Syria but has intensified its attacks since the Israel-Hamas war erupted following the October 7.
It comes after an apparent Israeli strike took out top Hamas commander Saleh al-Arouri in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, earlier this month.
People and security forces gather in front of a building destroyed in a reported Israeli strike in Damascus on January 20, 2024
A crane lifts a damaged car near site in the Mazzeh neighborhood of Damascus, January 20, 2024
UN experts warned earlier this month that the Israeli strike on Lebanon constituted a dangerous regional escalation, adding that ‘Israel has a deplorable history of assassinating suspected terrorists abroad‘.
Responding to today’s attack, a security source close to Syria’s government and its ally Iran, said the multi-storey building was used by Iranian advisers supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s government, and that it was entirely flattened by ‘precision-targeted Israeli missiles’.
The source said a fifth person was also killed but could not immediately identify the nationality.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organisation with sources on the ground, said the attack killed five people and was targeting ‘Iran-aligned leaders’ who were meeting in the building.
‘Two high-ranking Iranian advisers were martyred in today’s attack by the Zionist regime (Israel) in the Mazzeh neighbourhood of Damascus,’ Iran’s Mehr news agency said, quoting an informed but unnamed source.
Essam Al-Amin, head of the Al-Mowasat Hospital in Damascus, said that his hospital had received one corpse and three wounded people, including a woman, following Saturday’s attack.
A witness in Mazzeh saw ambulances and fire trucks gathered around the site of the strike, which had been cordoned off.
Rescue operations for people stuck under the rubble were ongoing throughout the late morning.
A grocer who was near the scene of the attack reportedly said he heard five consecutive explosions around 10.15am.
‘The shop shook. I stayed inside for few seconds then went out and saw the smoke billowing from behind the mosque,’ the man said.
Rescuers scour the site of the razed building after reports of five blasts on Saturday morning
A crane and fire truck near the site of the collapsed building in Damascus on January 20, 2024
A spokesman for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad said that no members of their group were wounded in the strike, following reports that some were at the bombed-out building.
In December, an Israeli air strike killed two Guards members, and another near Damascus on December 25 killed a senior adviser to the Guards who was overseeing military coordination between Syria and Iran.
Iran and its military allies in Syria have entrenched themselves in wide areas of eastern, southern and northern Syria and in several suburbs around the capital
The attacks are seen as reverberations of the Israel-Hamas conflict, with Prime Minister Netanyahu warning earlier this month that ‘no terrorist is immune’ following the October 7 attacks.
The unprecedented attacks by Hamas resulted in the deaths of about 1,140 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to official Israeli figures.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had threatened to kill al-Arouri (pictured), who headed the organisation in the West Bank
Israel vowed to destroy Hamas in response. Its relentless bombardment and ground offensive have killed at least 24,927 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
The United States provides Israel with billions of dollars in military aid but has urged it to take more care to protect civilians, and the two sides have disagreed over Gaza’s future governance.
Biden said it was still possible Netanyahu could agree to some form of Palestinian state, after the two leaders spoke for the first time in nearly a month.
Netanyahu had said on Thursday that Israel ‘must have security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River’, which ‘contradicts the idea of (Palestinian) sovereignty’.
People search for survivors inside an apartment following a massive explosion in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, on January 2
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that Israel could not achieve ‘genuine security’ without a ‘pathway to a Palestinian state’ – a goal sought by Palestinians for decades.
The United Nations estimates the war has displaced 1.7 million people, about one million of whom are crowded into the Rafah area in Gaza’s far south, near Egypt.
UN agencies have warned better aid access – including through Israel’s Ashdod port – is needed urgently as famine and disease loom.
After Friday’s call, the White House said Israel would allow flour shipments for Palestinians through Ashdod.