Skip to main content

Strike on Iran consulate in Syria revives darkest war memories

Rescue workers search in the rubble of a building annexed to the Iranian embassy in Damascus
— Damascus (AFP)

Stunned residents of Damascus's upscale Mazzeh district watched Tuesday as rescuers combed through the rubble of the Iranian consulate, destroyed in a strike blamed on Israel that has revived memories of the darkest days of Syria's civil war.

The strike on Monday afternoon killed at least 13 people when it hit the consular annex of Iran's embassy, Iranian state media reported.

Two generals and five other personnel from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were among the dead, the reports said.

Damascus has been spared the worst of the civil conflict, which began with anti-government protests in 2011 before drawing in international jihadists and foreign armies, and laying waste to parts of the country.

Mahmud Badawi, 42, who lives in the building next to the consulate, said he heard an "enormous explosion" and was thrown against the wall as the blast blew out his windows.

"I couldn't see anything. The house was full of dust and we started to hear calls for help," he told AFP.

Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes in Syria since civil war broke out, targeting Iran-backed forces including Lebanon's Hezbollah movement as well as Syrian army positions and weapons depots.

But the strikes have increased since Israel's war with Iran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas began on October 7.

Badawi said that over 13 years of war he had always held out hope that the situation would improve.

"But after this, I have no hope," he said.

"I am going to leave to find a better future and ensure my family's security."

- 'Worst memories' -

Israel has stepped up operations against Iranian and Iran-backed commanders in Syria and neighbouring Lebanon, where Hamas ally Hezbollah has been launching near-daily cross-border attacks on Israel.

An Iranian flag was draped near the remains of the consulate building in Damascus after the strike, which carved out a crater some five metres (16 feet) deep.

Residents nearby cleared away shattered glass and removed damaged cars, and shops were closed around the embassy, in an area also home to other diplomatic missions and UN offices.

Mazzeh resident Rasha Saleh, 33, an NGO worker, said she lived through the war in Aleppo, a city in northern Syria that saw heavy fighting.

"When I moved to Damascus in 2022, I thought the war was over. But it seems that's not the case," she told AFP.

After Monday's strikes, "the worst memories flooded back to me," she said.

"I cried all night."

The war has killed more than 507,000 people and millions have been forced to flee their homes.

- 'All afraid' -

The caretaker of a nearby building, who asked to be identified as Abu Mohammed, said his granddaughter was wounded in the strike.

"I didn't know what happened. One moment I was standing on the sidewalk, and the next I found myself" on another part of the street, he said.

"I thought the war was over, but it seems like it's started again," he said.

Emergency teams worked through the night and on Tuesday pulled two bodies from the building, including a woman in her fifties.

A civil defence source said a security guard from a nearby building and a passerby were among the wounded.

"There is at least one other body under the rubble," the source told AFP, requesting anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

People peered at the wreck of the consulate from nearby balconies in shock, some taking photos, while police dispersed onlookers who tried to gather near the site.

Oday Ibrahim, 52, who works at a nearby real estate agency, said explosions were "part of our daily routine, but yesterday's attack was different".

"It was very strong. It happened in broad daylight and in the heart of the city," he said.

"Everyone is in shock. We are all afraid."