BLOG Iran: Israel responsible for the attack on the consulate in Damascus, we will respond

The war between Israel and Hamas - 178th day

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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters
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Ažurirano: 01.04.2024. 22:24h
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21: 28h

Israeli warplanes are suspected of bombing the Iranian embassy in Syria on Monday, in what appears to be an escalation in Israel's war with its regional adversaries.

Tehran said the attack killed seven military advisers, including three senior commanders.

Reuters reporters on the scene in the Meze district of Damascus saw emergency workers climbing the rubble of a destroyed building inside the diplomatic compound, next to the main embassy building. Ambulances were parked out front. An Iranian flag hung from a pole next to the ruins.

Syria's foreign minister and interior minister were spotted at the scene: "We strongly condemn this horrific terrorist attack that targeted the Iranian consulate building in Damascus and killed a number of innocent people," said the Syrian foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad.

Israel has long targeted the military facilities of its archenemy Iran and those of its proxies in Syria, and has stepped up its strikes in parallel with its campaign against the Iranian-backed Palestinian group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Today's attack was the first time Israel hit the huge embassy base itself, Reuters explains.

Israel usually does not discuss its forces' attacks on Syria. Asked about the attack, a spokesman for the Israeli army said: "We do not comment on reports in foreign media."

Iran's ambassador to Syria, Hossein Akbari, who was not injured, told Iranian state television that five to seven people had been killed, including some diplomats, and that Tehran's response would be "harsh".

Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps said seven military advisers were killed in the attack, including Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander of Iran's elite Quds Force, the corps' overseas unit.

Iranian state media say Tehran believes Zahedi was the target of the attack. His deputy and another senior commander were also killed along with four others.

Iran's Arabic-language Al Alam television said Zahedi was a military adviser in Syria who served as head of the Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria until 2016.

The building was partially used as an ambassador's residence

Citing a military source, Syrian state media said Israel launched an attack from the occupied Golan Heights on the Iranian embassy and that Syria shot down several missiles with its air defense system.

Reuters reports that the Iranian ambassador said the attack hit the consular building within the embassy and that his residence was on the top two floors.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters at a regular press briefing that the United States remains "concerned about anything that would escalate or cause an increase in conflict in the region."

Mueller said he did not expect it to affect negotiations to free Israeli hostages held by Iran-backed Hamas.

Since Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7, which precipitated the Gaza war, Israel has escalated airstrikes in Syria against the Iranian Guard and the Tehran-backed Lebanese armed group Hezbollah, both of which support the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

On Friday, Israel carried out its deadliest strikes in months on Syria's northern Aleppo province, killing a senior Hezbollah fighter in Lebanon.

It has also regularly struck airports in Aleppo and Damascus in an attempt to stop Iran's arms transfers to its proxies, Reuters reports.

Israel's military said Monday it had stopped the smuggling of advanced weapons, including shrapnel and anti-tank mines, into the West Bank from Iran.

The weapons were said to have been discovered during an operation against Lebanon-based Hezbollah operatives and Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which is said to have recruited agents to smuggle weapons and carry out attacks in the West Bank.

20: 58h

As previously reported, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has relaunched moves to shut down Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite television station in Israel, vowing to take "immediate action" to close the station's local office while the war in Gaza continues.

Hours after a spokesman for his party said parliament would be called to ratify the necessary legislation, the Knesset approved a bill allowing the temporary closure of foreign broadcasters in Israel deemed to pose a threat to national security, Reuters reports.

The passed law would allow Netanyahu and the security cabinet to close the station for a 45-day, renewable period that would remain in effect until the end of July or until the end of major military operations in Gaza.

Neither the station's main office in Israel nor the Qatari government in Doha immediately responded to a request for comment.

Al Jazeera, which has been a fierce critic of Israel's military operation in Gaza, from where it reports around the clock, has previously accused Israel of systematically "targeting" its offices and staff.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karai accused Al Jazeera of inciting hostilities against Israel, Reuters reports.

"It is impossible to tolerate that a media outlet, with press credentials from the government press office and with offices in Israel, is acting from the inside against us, certainly in war," he said.

Israeli officials have long complained about Al Jazeera's reporting, but stopped short of taking action, noting that Qatar funds Palestinian construction projects in the Gaza Strip - seen by all sides as a means of preventing conflict.

But the move to allow the government to close local offices of foreign media groups has raised concerns from the United States, Israel's main ally, which has said it is critical to maintain press freedom.

"If true, this move is troubling," White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre told reporters at a briefing.

Since the Gaza war erupted on October 7 with a rampage of cross-border killings and kidnappings by the enclave's dominant Islamists, Hamas, Doha has brokered ceasefire talks in which Israel has returned some of the hostages.

However, talks on another proposed truce appear to be going nowhere.

In January, Netanyahu publicly called for the Qataris to be pressured to put more pressure on Hamas.

Qatar hosts the group's political office and several senior Hamas officials. Asked whether the threat to Al Jazeera might be part of such pressure, Israeli government spokesman Avi Haiman did not directly answer, though he said the station has been "pouring out propaganda for many, many years."

"Process"

In what may have been a hint that Al Jazeera could have legal recourse against any closure, Hyman added during the briefing: "There is due process, so we're not there yet," Reuters reported.

Israel's communications minister accused the station on October 15 of pro-Hamas incitement and exposing Israeli troops to ambushes.

Al Jazeera and the government in Doha did not respond to these allegations.

The following month, Israel appeared to spare the Qatari station, instead ordering a local shutdown of the smaller pro-Iranian Lebanese channel Al Majaden, under emergency media regulations.

The bill, which is due to be ratified on Monday, passed the first reading in the Knesset in February.

More than 32.000 Palestinians have been killed during Israel's six-month military offensive on Gaza, including 63 in the past 24 hours, Palestinian health authorities said. In the October 7 attack, Hamas killed 1.200 people and took 253 hostages, according to Israeli data, Reuters concluded.

Change: 21:20 p.m
20: 53h

The American official said that the meeting is over and that a written statement about it is expected later, the American official said, reports Reuters.

Change: 21:23 p.m
20: 35h

Iran says it reserves the right to take reciprocal action against Israel's attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, and Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kanan said Tehran will decide on "the type of response and punishment against the aggressor," according to state media, according to Reuters.

20: 21h

Senior US and Israeli officials planned to hold a virtual meeting to discuss the Biden administration's alternative proposals for an Israeli military invasion of Rafah, the White House said. 

White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre said the United States had expressed its concerns about any major ground operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the last relatively safe haven for more than a million displaced Palestinian civilians, Reuters reported.

"If they are going to continue with the military operation, we have to have this conversation," Jean-Pierre told a briefing. "We need to understand how they will progress."

She told reporters that the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, would lead the talks on the American side.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a planned visit to Washington by a high-ranking Israeli delegation last Sunday after the United States allowed a Gaza ceasefire resolution to be passed at the United Nations on Monday, marking a new wartime low in his relations with US President Joseph Biden.

Two days later, Israel asked the White House to reschedule a high-level meeting on military plans for Rafah, officials said, in an apparent attempt to ease tensions between the two allies.

Reuters reports that the United States, concerned about the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, wants Israel to consider an alternative to a ground invasion.

More than 32.000 Palestinians have been killed, including 63 in the past 24 hours, in Israel's six-month military offensive on Gaza, Palestinian health authorities said.

The Israeli retaliation began after an October 7 attack in which Hamas militants breached the Israeli border to kill 1.200 people and take 253 hostages, according to Israeli figures.

The offensive has decimated parts of the small coastal enclave, including strikes on hospitals and infrastructure, and created severe food shortages among the largely displaced population.

20: 07h

The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs today called on the international community to provide a "serious response" to the Israeli strikes on the Iranian embassy in Damascus that killed at least five members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, including a commander.

In a telephone conversation with his Syrian counterpart, the head of Iranian diplomacy, Hossein Amirabdolahian, said that the air attack on the annex of the Iranian embassy in Damascus is a violation of all international obligations and conventions and stressed the need for a serious response by the international community to such criminal actions, the Iranian Ministry announced.

In today's airstrike attributed to Israel, the annex of the Israeli embassy in Damascus was hit, and according to the non-governmental Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, eight people were killed, including five members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and one of its commanders.

It is the fifth attack in eight days aimed at Syria, where Iran and its allies support the government of Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian Ministry of Defense announced that the "Israeli enemy" had carried out airstrikes on the Iranian embassy in Damascus and that there were several dead and injured. As stated, the affected annex of the embassy was completely destroyed.

The Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Faisal Mekdad, condemned the "heinous terrorist attack" in which, as he said, "a number of innocent people" were killed.

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19: 53h

White House spokeswoman Karin Jean-Pierre said it would be "concerning" if the reports are true - that Israel is trying to shut down the news network, Al Jazeera.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu relaunched moves on Monday to shut down Qatari satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera in Israel, saying through a spokesman for his party that parliament would be convened in the evening to ratify the necessary legislation, Reuters reported.

Israel previously accused the station of agitating against him among Arab viewers.

Change: 20:33 p.m
19: 45h

"We are concerned that Hamas appears to have been able to reconstitute itself in the hospital," Reuters quoted the White House as saying.

19: 37h

Reuters reports that US President Joseph Biden is aware of reports of Israeli airstrikes in Damascus that hit the Iranian consulate and "the team is looking into it," White House spokeswoman Karin Jean-Pierre said.

19: 32h

Iran's Foreign Minister, Amirabdolahian, says that the Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus is a "violation of all international conventions", and that Tehran holds Israel responsible for the consequences of the attack, according to state media, as reported by Reuters.

19: 29h

White House: National Security Adviser, Sullivan, talks about Rafa on the US side, reports Reuters.

19: 22h

At least six people were killed and several injured in an Israeli airstrike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, according to Syrian state media, as reported by Reuters.

Iran's ambassador to Syria says Tehran's response will be harsh.

18: 10h

The Iranian consulate in the capital of Syria, Damascus, was razed to the ground in what Syrian and Iranian media described as an Israeli airstrike - an escalation of the conflict in the Middle East, which would pit Israel against Iran and its allies, reports Reuters.

A Lebanese security source told Reuters that one of the dead was Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Iranian state television said several Iranian diplomats had been killed.

Reuters reporters on the scene in the Meze district of the Syrian capital saw smoke rising from the rubble of a building that had been flattened, and ambulances parked outside. An Iranian flag hung from a pole in front of the ruins. The Syrian Ministers of Interior and Foreign Affairs were seen on the spot.

Israel, which has repeatedly struck Iranian targets during the six-month war in Gaza, declined to comment on the incident, following its usual practice. An Israeli army spokesman said: "We do not comment on reports in foreign media."

Iran's Tasnim news agency reported that five people were killed in the Israeli attack. The Syrian state news agency SANA reported an unspecified number of dead and injured, Reuters reports.

Since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by the Iranian-backed Palestinian faction Hamas, Israel has stepped up airstrikes in Syria against the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militia and the Iranian Guard, both of which support the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Change: 20:46 p.m
15: 43h

Israeli forces carried out airstrikes on ten targets belonging to the Hezbollah movement in southern Lebanon, the Israeli military said.

Nearly ten airstrikes are said to have been carried out on targets including Hezbollah weapons depots, observation posts and missile launch platforms in the Rashaja al-Fuhar region of southern Lebanon.

The official Lebanese agency, NNA, announced that Israeli warplanes attacked the area between Rashaj al-Fuhar and Firdevs in the Marjayoun district of the Nabatieh province in southern Lebanon, Anadolia reports. Hezbollah has not commented on the attacks and there is no information on casualties.

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13: 49h

The Hamas Health Ministry announced today that 32.845 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of the war between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement on October 7 last year.

In 24 hours, another 63 deaths were recorded, according to the ministry's announcement.

It is added that 75.392 people have been injured since the beginning of the war.

11: 11h

A virtual meeting between Israeli and American officials on the topic of Israel's planned offensive in Rafah will be held during the day, Israeli sources announced today.

The meeting will be organized on Sunday after Israel canceled the visit of its delegation to Washington.

"A meeting has been scheduled for today online. There may be a meeting in reality later on Sunday," the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Israel's announcement of an upcoming offensive in Rafah, where there are 1,5 million Palestinians, caused great concern in the international community.

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10: 51h

Israeli police announced today that they have arrested the sister of the Palestinian leader of the Hamas movement, Ismail Haniyeh, in Israel, where she lives, as part of a "terrorism" investigation led by the police and the Shin Bet internal security service.

Sabah Abdel Salam Haniyeh (57), who has Israeli citizenship, "is suspected of having contacts with Hamas agents and of inciting and supporting terrorist acts in Israel," an unnamed Israeli police spokesman said.

During the search of the suspect's house in Tel-Sheva, in the south of the country, the police announced that they discovered documents, telephones and "evidence that shows that she is connected to the execution of serious crimes against the security of the State of Israel."

Israel, which is at war with the Palestinian movement in the Gaza Strip, considers Hamas a terrorist organization, and the leader of that movement, Haniyeh, lives in Qatar.

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09: 46h

The Israeli army announced today that it has completed operations in the area of ​​the Al Shifa hospital, the largest in the Gaza Strip, and that it has withdrawn from the area where it had been for two weeks.

"The forces completed operational activities in the area of ​​Al Shifa Hospital and left the hospital area," the army statement said, adding that they "killed the terrorists during the confrontation."

The Ministry of Health in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip announced this morning that the Israeli army withdrew tanks and vehicles from Al Shifa Hospital, where it launched a military operation two weeks ago.

"Dozens of corpses, some of them in a state of decomposition, were found in and around the hospital," according to a statement by the Ministry of Health of the Palestinian movement Hamas.

A doctor told AFP that more than 20 bodies had been found, and that some had been run over by military vehicles during the retreat.

The Israeli military, which accuses Hamas fighters of hiding in hospitals, launched what it previously described as a "precision operation" on March 18 against al-Shifa, located in the northern Palestinian territory of Gaza City.

The war between Israeli forces and Hamas began on October 7.

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09: 10h

The Palestinian movement Hamas apologized for the first time to the people of Gaza for the suffering caused by the war, in a statement broadcast on its Telegram channel.

The Palestinian Islamist movement apologizes, as it stated in a statement last night, for the difficulties caused by the war against the Israeli army, which has lasted for almost six months.

On this occasion, he reiterated his desire to continue the war, stating that it must enable the achievement of "victory and freedom" for the Palestinians.

Hamas sent a "message of gratitude to the people" of the Gaza Strip whose "exhaustion" it recognizes.

The movement insisted on the measures it said it had tried to put in place to ease the difficulties, particularly attempts to "control prices" within its means "in view of the ongoing aggression".

Hamas claims it is communicating with "all components" of Gaza society, citing other armed movements, "popular committees and groups" to "solve the problems caused by the occupation".

The humanitarian needs are huge in that territory, which was already under the Israeli blockade imposed since 2006 before the war, and is affected by poverty and unemployment.

Aid is arriving, and most of the population is displaced to the southernmost part, around Rafah, near the closed border with Egypt.

The city, which before the war had a population of less than 300.000, is now home to more than a million, according to UN estimates.

In recent months, various Hamas figures, such as Khaled Mehal, the former head of the Hamas political bureau, have estimated that "sacrifices" are necessary for the "liberation" of the Palestinians.

The war was triggered by an unprecedented attack by Hamas from the Gaza Strip on October 7 against Israel, which resulted in the deaths of at least 1.160 people, mostly civilians.

According to Israel, about 250 people were also kidnapped, and 130 of them remain hostages in Gaza, of whom 34 have died.

In retaliation, Israel vowed to destroy Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization along with the US and the European Union, and launched an offensive that killed 32.782 people in the Gaza Strip.

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08: 21h

The Ministry of Health in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip announced today that the Israeli army withdrew tanks and vehicles from Al Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in the besieged Palestinian territory, where it launched a military operation two weeks ago.

An AFP reporter and eyewitnesses at the scene saw tanks and military vehicles leaving the hospital complex.

"Dozens of corpses, some of them in a state of decomposition, were found in and around the hospital," according to a statement by the Ministry of Health of the Palestinian movement Hamas.

The Israeli army "withdrew from the Al Shifa medical complex after setting fire to the buildings and putting them completely out of action," the ministry said, adding that the buildings surrounding it were also damaged.

A doctor told AFP that more than 20 bodies had been found, and that some had been run over by military vehicles during the retreat.

The Israeli military, which accuses Hamas fighters of hiding in hospitals, launched what it described as a "precision operation" on March 18 against al-Shifa, located in the northern Palestinian territory of Gaza City.

The army said it had "eliminated around 200 terrorists" since then. The operation began when hundreds of displaced persons found refuge in the hospital grounds.

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said yesterday that 21 patients in that hospital have died since the start of the Israeli operation.

According to him, 107 patients remained in the hospital, among them four children, and 28 people are in critical condition.

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