Like a war zone: Damascus residents stunned after Israel's strike on Iran embassy compound

Parts of the central Mezzeh district were cordoned off as search teams pulled bodies from the rubble

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Syrian Civil Defence teams worked through the night on Monday to clear the wreckage of the Iranian ambassador's residence in Damascus, after an Israeli attack that killed at least 11 people, including two senior commanders in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Parts of the central Mezzeh district were cordoned off on Tuesday morning as excavators went to work and search and rescue teams tried to recover the dead.

“We have been pulling out bodies … because it’s a five-storey building that was demolished,” Jaafar, who works for the Syrian Civil Defence, told The National.

“The sheer force of the strike rocked the neighbourhood and impacted the residential buildings behind the ambassador's residence. There are casualties and martyrs.”

Iran confirmed the death of seven members of the IRGC, including Brig Gen Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the commander of the Quds Force in Lebanon, and another commander, Brig Gen Mohammad Hadi Haji Rahimi.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 11 people were killed.

The ambassador's residence, which is also used as a consulate and is adjacent to the main Iranian embassy building, is in a diplomatic area. An Israeli attack in the Mezzeh neighbourhood in January killed several IRGC military advisers and Syrian soldiers.

“Look what Israel is doing in Gaza, in Lebanon and here in Syria. Every day, it is attacking everybody. They are killing people all around our region, attacking us in broad daylight," a Syrian firefighter said.

“It is a dangerous and brazen targeting in the heart of Damascus,” a rescue official told The National.

Challenge to Iran

The strike is the most significant attack against an Iranian target since the Gaza war began and risks pulling Iran into a direct confrontation with Israel.

It also raises fears of escalation on other fronts against Israel, including from Iran-backed groups in Yemen and Lebanon.

The Israeli government did not respond to requests for comment on the attack in Damascus.

Hossein Akbari, the Iranian ambassador, claimed F-35 fighters with six missiles had attacked the compound - he did not provide a source of the information, nor evidence - when he addressed reporters outside the embassy.

Israel has repeatedly bombed Iranian and Syrian personnel and property within Syria. But the strikes have escalated since the start of the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas on October 7 and the cross-border conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

On Friday, dozens of Syrian soldiers and Hezbollah members were killed in Israeli air strikes on north-western Aleppo province, one of the biggest attacks against Syria and the Iranian-backed group since the beginning of Israel's war in Gaza.

Residents of the Mezzeh area were returning home from work, with some stuck in traffic jams on the motorway before the explosions in the area.

Mohanad Al Shalah said he was on the way home when a loud explosion deafened him.

“I was driving home on the motorway and suddenly the windows in the car vibrated, my ears hurt, I looked and I saw the smoke rising from near the consulate,” he said.

“This is an embassy, so no one ever expected such a strike would occur. People were still trapped out of the rubble; the building [site] looked like a war zone.”

Rama, who lives behind the ambassador's residence, said her balcony was covered in shattered glass and debris from the strike. “My children were in the house with me as the strike ripped through the area," she siad. "My furniture is all broken, the house Is a mess. It is a bomb site now.”

Updated: April 02, 2024, 10:56 AM