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An Israeli strike on Damascus killed the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ spy chief for Syria and three other Guards members Saturday, Iran said, in an attack that tore into a multi-storey residential building. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said six people were killed in the Israeli strike on the Mazzeh neighbourhood of the capital Damascus. 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. 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 “aggressive action of 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. 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 neighbourhood had been targeted in what it called “an Israeli aggression”. The Syrian defence 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 missile strike targeted a four-storey building, killing six people… and destroying the whole building where Iran-aligned leaders were meeting” in Damascus. Its director, Rami Abdel Rahman, said the toll was likely to rise because four more people, including one Lebanese and one Iraqi man, were still under the rubble. One of the victims was a Syrian, he said, later adding that he worked with the Iranians. The British-based war monitor with a network of sources inside Syria said the targeted building belonged to the IRGC and that the neighbourhood 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 air strike 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 neighbouring Lebanon, where the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah holds sway, Hamas deputy Saleh al-Aruri was killed in a strike widely blamed on Israel. 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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