Iran says ‘reserves right’ to avenge Israeli strike that killed 5 Guards in Damascus

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An Israeli strike on Damascus killed the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ spy chief for Syria and four other Guards members Saturday, Iran said, in an attack that tore into a multi-story residential building.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said 10 people were killed in the Israeli strike on the Mazzeh neighborhood of the capital Damascus.

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In recent weeks, Israel has been accused of intensifying strikes on senior Iranian and allied figures in Syria and Lebanon - backers of the Palestinian militant group Hamas - raising fears the Gaza conflict could expand.

“The Revolutionary Guards’ Syria intel chief, his deputy and two other Guards members were martyred in the attack on Syria by Israel,” Iran’s Mehr news agency said, quoting an informed source.

Hojjatollah Omidvar, also known as Sadegh Omidzadeh. (Social media)
Hojjatollah Omidvar, also known as Sadegh Omidzadeh. (Social media)

In a statement, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) confirmed it lost four of its members in the strike that it accused Israel, its regional arch-foe, of carrying out.

The Guards’ Sepah news agency said the “evil and criminal Zionist regime (Israel)” killed four of its military advisers. It identified them as Hojatollah Omidvar, Ali Aghazadeh, Hossein Mohammadi and Saeed Karimi.

Iran’s foreign ministry condemned the strike as a “desperate attempt to spread instability in region,” state media reported.

“Iran ... reserves its right to respond to the organized terrorism of the fake Zionist regime at the appropriate time and place,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani was quoted by state media as saying.

He also urged foreign countries and international organizations to condemn the attack.

The mid-morning strike, which caused a large plume of smoke to billow into the sky, was also reported by Syrian state media.

The war-torn country’s official news agency, SANA, said a residential building in Damascus’ Mazzeh neighborhood had been targeted in what it called “an Israeli aggression.”

The Syrian defense ministry said the strike killed “a number of civilians.”

An AFP journalist at the scene said the building had been reduced to a heap of debris. It was cordoned off with ambulances, firefighters and Syrian Arab Red Crescent teams on site as rescuers searched for survivors.

“I heard the explosion clearly in the western Mazzeh area, and I saw a large cloud of smoke,” a resident told AFP, requesting anonymity for security concerns.

“The sound was similar to a missile explosion, and minutes later I heard the sound of ambulances,” he added.

Hundreds of Israeli strikes

When asked about the strike, the Israeli army told AFP: “We do not comment on reports from the foreign media.”

During more than a decade of civil war in Syria, Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes on its territory, primarily targeting Iran-backed forces as well as Syrian army positions.

But it has intensified attacks since the war between Israel and Hamas, which like Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement is an ally of Iran, began on October 7.

The Observatory said an Israeli strike on a four-story building killed 10 people after four more bodies were recovered from the rubble, of the destroyed building “where Iran-aligned leaders were meeting” in Damascus.

Among the dead were Iranians and other Tehran-backed fighters, its director, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.

The British-based war monitor with a network of sources inside Syria said the targeted building belonged to the IRGC and that the neighborhood is known to be a high-security zone home to leaders of the IRGC and pro-Iran Palestinian factions.

The Mazzeh area is also home to the United Nations’ headquarters, embassies and restaurants.

“They were for sure targeting senior members” of Tehran-backed groups or Iranian forces, Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Exchanges of fire

Saturday’s presumed Israeli strike was their second high-profile targeted assassination in Syria in less than a month.

In December, an Israeli airstrike killed a senior Iranian general in Syria, the military force said.

Razi Moussavi was the most senior commander of the Guards’ foreign operations arm, the Quds Force, to be killed outside Iran since a US drone strike in Baghdad on January 3, 2020 killed the Force’s commander, Qasem Soleimani.

On January 2 in neighboring Lebanon, where the Iran-backed Hezbollah holds sway, Hamas deputy Saleh al-Arouri was killed in a strike widely blamed on Israel.

Civil defense workers inspect a vehicle that was damaged near the building hit by an Israeli strike targeting Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri in the southern suburb of Beirut on January 3, 2024. (AFP)
Civil defense workers inspect a vehicle that was damaged near the building hit by an Israeli strike targeting Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri in the southern suburb of Beirut on January 3, 2024. (AFP)

Days later, Israel killed top Hezbollah commander Wissam Tawil in a strike on his car in south Lebanon.

Recent months have also seen regular cross-border exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Israel rarely comments on individual strikes targeting Syria, but it has repeatedly said it will not allow arch foe Iran, which backs President Bashar al-Assad’s government, to expand its presence there.

Since 2011, Syria has endured a bloody conflict that has claimed over half a million lives and displaced several million people and plunged.

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