Iran vows retaliation against Israel after military leaders killed in strike in Syria

The strike has sparked fears the Israel-Hamas war could spread across the Middle East, as Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo reports from Aden, Yemen

Iran has warned of retaliation against Israel after at least five senior members of its Revolutionary Guard were killed in a suspected Israeli missile strike on the Syrian capital, Damascus.

The Syrian army said the airstrike on Saturday completely destroyed a building in the tightly guarded western Damascus neighbourhood of Mazzeh that was being used by the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

Some of Iran's top intelligence chiefs were working in the building under the protection of and in cooperation with the Damascus regime. According to Iran state media, one of the country's most senior generals in Syria was killed.

Security forces deployed around the destroyed four-story building as ambulances and fire engines were seen in the area. A search for people trapped under the rubble was underway.

The Syrian army said the Israeli air force fired the missiles while flying over Syria’s Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Israeli military did not comment.

The airstrike added fears the conflict could spread to the wider region. It follows recent missile attacks from Iran towards Pakistan and Iraq, and continued US strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday, while Iranian-backed militias in Iraq struck a base housing US troops, wounding several personnel.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said at least six people - five Iranians and a Syrian - were killed in the missile attack that struck while officials from Iran-backed groups were holding a meeting.

The Observatory's chief, Rami Abdurrahman, said three of the Iranians were commanders, adding that four other people are still missing under the rubble.

The Telegram channel for Iranian state TV reported that Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi condemned the suspected Israeli attack on Damascus, warning: “The Islamic Republic will not leave the crimes of the Zionist regime unanswered.” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani also condemned the strike in a statement saying that “without any doubt, the blood of these high-ranking martyrs will not be wasted.” Iran also tried again to link Israel to the Islamic State group - something its leaders have been trying to do since a suicide bombing by the extremists in early January in Iran killed more than 90 people. A grocer near the scene of the strike in Damascus said he heard five consecutive explosions at about 10.15am, adding that he later witnessed the bodies of a man and a woman being taken away as well as three wounded people.

Emergency services work at the building hit by an air strike in Damascus. Credit: AP

“The shop shook. I stayed inside for a few seconds then went out and saw the smoke billowing from behind the mosque,” the man, who asked that his name not be used for security reasons, told The Associated Press.

Khaled Mawed, who lives nearby, said: “What happened was terrifying. I collapsed."

Meanwhile, a few hours later in the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre, an Israeli drone strike on a car reportedly killed two Hezbollah members inside the vehicle and two people in a nearby orchard, according to an official with Hezbollah and Lebanon's state news agency.

One of those killed was Ali Hudruj, a local Hezbollah commander, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, without giving further details.

The strikes came amid widening tensions in the region as Israel pushes ahead with its offensive in Gaza.

Israel’s assault there, one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history, has killed nearly 25,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.

More than 80% of the territory’s 2.3 million people have been displaced from their homes.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...

Israel launched the offensive after an unprecedented cross-border attack into Israel by Hamas on October 7 that killed 1,200 people and took some 250 others hostage. Roughly 130 hostages are believed by Israel to remain in Hamas captivity.

The war has stoked tensions across the region, threatening to ignite other conflicts. Last month, an Israeli airstrike on a suburb of Damascus killed Iranian general Seyed Razi Mousavi, a longtime adviser of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in Syria. Israel has also targeted Palestinian and Lebanese operatives in Syria over the past years. Iranian and Syrian officials have long acknowledged Iran has advisers and military experts in Syria, but denied there were any ground troops. Thousands of fighters from Iran-backed groups took part in Syria's conflict that started in March 2011, helping tip the balance of power in favour of President Bashar Assad.

Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled parts of war-torn Syria in recent years. Israel rarely acknowledges its actions in Syria, but it has said that it targets bases of Iran-allied militant groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Earlier this month, a strike said to be carried out by Israel killed top Hamas commander Saleh Arouri in Beirut. Over the past weeks, rockets have been fired from Syria into northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, adding to tensions along the Lebanon-Israel border and attacks on ships in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…