Iran Promises ‘Harsh’ Response After Apparent Israeli Strike Kills Top General

Reuters/Firas Makdesi
Reuters/Firas Makdesi

A top commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard was killed Monday in an airstrike near the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria, Iranian authorities and state media announced. They blamed Israel for the attack.

Mohammed Reza Zahedi, commander of the Iranian Quds Force, was said to be among a group of at least five Iranians killed in the blast, according to Iran’s Tasnim news agency. Israeli officials have not publicly addressed the strike.

The residence of the Iranian ambassador to Syria was “flattened” in the blast, Reuters reported, citing journalists at the scene. The Iranian ambassador to Syria, Hossein Akbari, was not injured, but told reporters Monday that his countrymen were “targeted with six missiles from Israeli F-35 warplanes” and that Iran’s response would be “harsh.”

“Between five and seven people were killed in the attack,” said Akbari. “I was in my office in the embassy at the time and witnessed the destruction myself.”

The Syrian Arab News Agency, the state news agency of Syria, also claimed the strike was an “Israeli act of aggression” that caused “massive destruction.”

CNN reported that the Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian called the attack a “violation of all international obligations and conventions,” and demanded a “serious response by the international community.”

The escalation came after Israeli officials claimed Monday that a missile strike—allegedly launched by an Iran-backed militia in Iraq—struck an Israeli Navy base in its southernmost city of Eilat, causing damage.

The State Department said it doesn’t have information about the target or the responsible party in the incident.

The Biden administration is “gathering more information” with partners still, Matthew Miller, the State Department Spokesperson, told reporters on Monday.

“We are always concerned about anything that would be escalatory or cause an increase in conflict in the region,” Miller added.

A Brookings Institution event that sought to prevent a broad Middle East war—one which was set to host a top adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden—was canceled after the blast in Syria.

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The airstrike in Damascus came just hours after Israeli troops departed the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Monday, concluding a two-week siege by its special forces that reportedly left behind a wasteland of bodies and destroyed buildings.

The Israeli military said it arrested or killed hundreds of suspected Hamas militants during the siege, which was its second raid on the hospital since war broke out on Oct. 7.

Like much of the war in Gaza, Palestinian and Israeli authorities have offered conflicting versions of the events surrounding the raid. Gaza officials characterized it as a war crime, claiming Israeli forces targeted innocent doctors and patients. Israeli officials, however, claimed its assault was a targeted strike against a Hamas stronghold, and proved to be a necessary incursion given the fact that militants had barricaded themselves in the facility in order to use civilians as human shields.

The Washington Post and Reuters reported they were among multiple media outlets permitted to enter what was left of the hospital on Monday. They described a bleak scene inside, with the Post noting the compound smelled of “bodies” and “rot,” with nearly each part of the buildings “broken, smashed, twisted.”

Prior to the raid, Israeli officials said there were 6,000 people sheltering on the grounds. That number included patients, medical staff, and displaced families, as it was one of the only buildings in Gaza’s north that still had some access to water and power. By Monday, IDF officials said just 140 Palestinians remained at the campus. Ismail Al-Thawabta, director of the Hamas-run Gaza media office, said that Israeli forces had killed 400 Palestinians in and around the hospital in the two-week span.

“They bulldozed the courtyards, burying dozens of bodies of martyrs in the rubble, turning the place into a mass graveyard,” he told Reuters. “This is a crime against humanity.”

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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, posted to X on Sunday that 21 patients died inside the hospital since “it came under siege.” The IDF claimed those deaths were not the “direct result” of their raid, claiming that any civilian casualties inside the hospital were due to “natural causes.”

The hospital, once Gaza’s largest, now appears to be unusable for medical treatment, with its emergency room and maternity ward both turned to rubble.

Few hospitals remain in operation in northern Gaza, which has seen the most significant fighting of the war and has seen the highest number of civilian deaths.

A Israeli military official who remained anonymous spoke to the Post on Monday from the hospital. He justified the siege by claiming that Hamas, after being ejected from the building following a November raid, had “streamed back into the complex” and had been using it as a headquarters again in recent weeks.

The Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari also said the hospital was “a major operating center” for Hamas, Reuters reported. A Hamas official, Basem Naim, countered those claims, telling the Post it was merely “propaganda to justify the attack on our people.”

“Even if some Hamas members were present in the hospital as refugees,” he told the paper, “does this justify destroying hospitals?”

Ghassan abu Sitta, a British-Palestinian doctor who has worked at Al-Shifa, posted to Instagram on Monday morning that his friend, Dr. Ahmad Maqadmeh, had died in the hospital siege.

“A beautiful soul and a great surgeon,” he said. “We worked together in the Great Marches of Return and the 2021 war and then this recent war. His dedication was unlike anything I have ever seen.”

Sitta said Maqadmeh refused to leave Gaza’s north because people needed to be cared for there. He leaves behind a wife and child, he added.

The raid’s conclusion comes amid an international push for Israel to initiate at least a temporary ceasefire. The calls have included pleas from President Biden and other U.S. officials for Israel to reach a deal with Gaza officials.

Tensions between Tel Aviv and Washington have become strained in recent weeks, particularly after the U.S. refused to veto a U.N. resolution that called for an immediate ceasefire last month.

Israel has shown no signs of slowing its operation in Gaza or elsewhere. On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu re-upped his attempts to have the Qatar-based Al Jazeera banned throughout Israel—a call heeded by the country’s parliament, which passed a measure to grant government officials the power to shut down foreign media outlets shortly after.

In Egypt, where a potential ceasefire deal has been discussed, a Palestinian official told Reuters that “there has been no sign of a breakthrough.”

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