DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — An Israeli airstrike that demolished Iran’s consulate in Syria on Monday killed two Iranian generals and five officers, according to Iranian officials. The strike appeared to signify an escalation of Israel’s targeting of military officials from Iran, which supports militant groups fighting Israel in Gaza, and along its border with Lebanon.

Since the war in Gaza began nearly six months ago, clashes have increased between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah militants based in Lebanon. Hamas, which rules Gaza and attacked Israel on Oct. 7, is also backed by Iran.

Israel, which rarely acknowledges strikes against Iranian targets, said it had no comment on the latest attack in Syria, although a military spokesman blamed Iran for a drone attack early Monday against a naval base in southern Israel.

Israel has grown increasingly impatient with the daily exchanges of fire with Hezbollah, which have escalated in recent days, and warned of the possibility of a full-fledged war. Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have also been launching long-range missiles toward Israel, including on Monday.

The airstrike in Syria killed Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who led the elite Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria until 2016, according to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. It also killed Zahedi’s deputy, Gen Mohammad Hadi Hajriahimi, and five other officers.

Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who led the elite Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria until 2016, was killed by an Israeli airstrike on Iran's consulate in Syria, according to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who led the elite Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria until 2016, was killed by an Israeli airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Syria, according to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Fars Media Corporation/Wikimedia

A member of Hezbollah, Hussein Youssef, also was killed in the attack, an official with the militant group told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with group’s rules. Hezbollah has not publicly announced the death.

Hezbollah offered condolences to Iran for Zahedi’s death and called Israel “foolish when it believes that liquidating the leaders can stop the roaring tide of the people’s resistance.” It added in its statement that the killing “will not pass without the enemy receiving punishment and revenge.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain, said two Syrians also were killed.

Two police officers who guarded the consulate were among those wounded, and first responders were still searching for bodies under the rubble.

While Iran’s consular building was leveled in the attack, according to Syria’s state news agency, its main embassy building remained intact. Still, the Iranian ambassador’s residence was inside the consular building.

Iran’s ambassador, Hossein Akbari, vowed revenge for the strike “at the same magnitude and harshness.”

Hamas and Islamic Jihad — another Palestinian militant group backed by Iran — accused Israel of seeking to widen the conflict in Gaza.

Experts said there was no doubt that Iran would retaliate. The strike in Syria was a “major escalation,” Charles Lister, a Syria expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said on the social media platform X.

A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, Nasser Kanaani, called on other countries to condemn the strike.

Emergency and security personnel search the rubble at the site of strikes which hit a building annexed to the Iranian embassy in Syria's capital Damascus, on April 1, 2024. Syrian state media said Israeli strikes hit an Iranian consular annex in the capital on April 1, while a war monitor reported eight people were killed and Iranian state media said a senior commander of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was among the dead, amid rising regional tensions due to the Gaza war. (Photo by LOUAI BESHARA / AFP) (Photo by LOUAI BESHARA/AFP via Getty Images)
Emergency and security personnel search the rubble at the site of strikes which hit a building annexed to the Iranian embassy in Syria’s capital Damascus, on April 1, 2024. Syrian state media said Israeli strikes hit an Iranian consular annex in the capital on April 1, while a war monitor reported eight people were killed and Iranian state media said a senior commander of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was among the dead, amid rising regional tensions due to the Gaza war. (Photo by LOUAI BESHARA / AFP) (Photo by LOUAI BESHARA/AFP via Getty Images)

LOUAI BESHARA via Getty Images

Israel has attacked scores of Iranian-linked targets in Syria over the years with the apparent intent of disrupting arms transfers and other cooperation with Hezbollah. which has sent thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

An Israeli airstrike in a Damascus neighborhood in December killed a longtime Iranian Revolutionary Guard adviser to Syria, Seyed Razi Mousavi.

A similar strike on a building in Damascus in January killed at least five Iranian advisers. Last week, an Iranian adviser was killed in airstrikes over the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, near the Iraqi border.

The chief spokesman for Israel’s army, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said a Monday drone attack on a naval base in southern Israel was “directed by Iran” and caused no injuries.

Early on Tuesday, the Israeli military said some kind of weapon fired from Syria toward Israel crashed before reaching its intended target.

Chehayeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, Abby Sewell in Los Angeles and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington, contributed to this report.

This story has been edited to correct that name of one of the generals is Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi.

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