Iran FM opens new Syria consulate

Iran FM opens new Syria consulate

DAMASCUS (AFP): Iran’s foreign minister inaugurated the country’s new consulate in Damascus on Monday, a week after a deadly strike blamed on Israel destroyed the former premises, sending regional tensions skyrocketing.

Tehran, a key Damascus ally, has vowed to avenge last Monday’s air strike on the Iranian embassy’s consular section that killed seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) members, including two generals. The strike came against the backdrop of Israel and Hamas’s ongoing fighting, which began with the group’s October 7 attack on Israel.

Damascus and Tehran blame Israel for last Monday’s raid, but it has not commented. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian inaugurated the new consular section in a Damascus building in the presence of his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad, whom he also met earlier on Monday, state news agency SANA said. An AFP correspondent at the inauguration said the new consulate was not far from the premises destroyed by the strike in the upscale Mazzeh area, which also houses other foreign embassies and UN offices.

Amir-Abdollahian was also set to meet President Bashar al-Assad, and Syria’s pro-government newspaper Al-Watan said his talks in Damascus would be “mainly focused” on repercussions of last week’s strike. Iran’s foreign minister began a regional tour Sunday in Oman, long a mediator between Tehran and the West, where Muscat’s foreign minister called for de-escalation.

An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader warned on Sunday that Israeli embassies were “no longer safe” after the Damascus attack. Analysts saw the raid as an escalation of Israel’s campaign against Iran and its regional proxies that runs the risk of triggering a wider war beyond the Israel-Hamas fighting in the Gaza Strip.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said 16 people were killed in the consulate strike: eight Iranians, five Syrians, one member of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group and two civilians. Among the dead were generals Mohammad Reza Zahedi and Mohammad Hadi Haji Rahimi, both senior commanders in the Quds Force, the IRGC’s foreign operations arm.

Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes in Syria since civil war broke out 13 years ago, targeting Iran-backed forces, including Hezbollah as well as Syrian army positions and weapons depots. It rarely comments on individual strikes, but Israel’s raids have increased since the Gaza fighting began. Tehran backs Hamas but has denied any direct involvement in the group’s October 7 attack, which sparked massive Israeli retaliation in Gaza.