February 21, 2024

An Israeli strike on Damascus killed five people in a building where “Iran-aligned leaders” were meeting on Saturday, a war monitor said, as regional tensions soar over the Israel-Hamas war.

“An Israeli missile strike targeted a four-storey building, killing five people… and destroying the whole building where Iran-aligned leaders were meeting,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The British-based monitor with a network of sources inside Syria said the targeted neighbourhood is known to be a high-security zone home to leaders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and pro-Iran Palestinian factions.

“They were for sure targeting senior members” of those groups, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

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

“An attack targeted a residential building in the Mazzeh neighbourhood in Damascus, resulting from an Israeli aggression,” the official SANA news agency reported. It did not say if there were any casualties.

An AFP correspondent at the scene said the destroyed building was cordoned off with ambulances, firefighters and Syrian Arab Red Crescent rescue teams all present at the site.

Civil defence were busy searching for survivors under the rubble of the totally collapsed building, he said.

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

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

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

Hundreds of Israeli strikes

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.

In December, an Israeli air strike killed a senior general with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, 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.

In the same month, air strikes in eastern Syria, “likely” carried out by Israel, killed at least 23 pro-Iran fighters, the Observatory said at the time, reporting four more dead in the country’s north.

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.

AFP

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