At least three senior commanders and four officers overseeing Iran’s covert operations in the Middle East were killed on Monday when Israeli warplanes struck a building in Damascus that is part of the Iranian Embassy complex, according to Iranian and Syrian officials.

The strike in Damascus, the Syrian capital, appeared to be among the deadliest attacks in a yearslong shadow war between Israel and Iran that has included the assassinations of Iranian military leaders and nuclear scientists.

That covert war has moved into the open as tensions between the countries have intensified over Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip against Hamas, the Iranian-backed militia that led the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Four Israeli officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters, confirmed that Israel had been behind the strike in Damascus, but denied that the building had diplomatic status.

But the Syrian ambassador to Iran, Shafiq Dayoub, said the strike had targeted a diplomatic building and was a “clear and complete violation of all international conventions and norms.”

Video circulating on social media after the strike showed a destroyed building next to the embassy, and photographs showed an entrance gate with a sign identifying it as the consular section. The embassy said on X that the building housed a consular section and the ambassador’s residence.

Footage broadcast by Iranian and Syrian news agencies showed a ruined building, burned cars, shattered glass and debris on the ground.

The dead included Gen. Mohamad Reza Zahedi, 65, who oversaw Iran’s covert military operations in Syria and Lebanon, two other generals and four officers in the Quds Force, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said in a statement.

Ali Vaez, the Iran director for the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit that seeks to prevent wars, said that targeting a diplomatic facility would be “akin to targeting Iran on its own soil.”

Israeli officials said the building was an outpost of the Revolutionary Guards, making it a legitimate military target.

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, strongly condemned the strike and said he had spoken to his Syrian counterpart about the “Zionist regime’s attack on the consulate section of the Islamic Republic’s embassy in Damascus.”

“Netanyahu has lost his mental balance because he has faced back-to-back defeat in Gaza and has not achieved the Zionists’ ambitious goals,” Mr. Amir Abdollahian said in a statement, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

The strike came as Israeli soldiers withdrew from Gaza’s largest hospital complex, Al-Shifa, leaving it badly battered after a two-week raid in which the Israeli military said it had killed about 200 Palestinian militants and arrested hundreds of others after extended firefights.

Dr. Taysir al-Tanna, a longtime vascular surgeon at the Gaza City hospital, said that many of the main buildings — including the emergency, obstetrics and surgical wards — had been badly damaged in the fighting and the main gate smashed.

“Now it looks like a wasteland,” Dr. al-Tanna said.

Osama al-Ashi, a Gazan who went to the area to check on his apartment after hearing that the Israeli military had withdrawn, said that he was immediately struck by the stench of decomposing bodies and that he had seen mountains of rubble and burned buildings.

“The whole time we were walking,” he said, “we were stepping on body parts.”

Mr. al-Ashi said that many of the dead appeared to have been shot. Others, he said, appeared to have been unearthed when Israeli forces bulldozed temporary cemeteries on hospital grounds. Many buildings around the hospital had been destroyed by bombs, missiles and tank shells, he said.

“The scenes there were difficult to tolerate as a human being,” he said. “You feel like you are in a horror movie.”

The Israeli military said that the Palestinians killed had been militants and that those who were arrested had been suspected militants, including some believed to be senior commanders of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It said two Israeli soldiers had been killed and eight others wounded in the raid.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman, blamed militants for the destruction at the hospital, saying they had fortified themselves in hospital wards, fired on soldiers and refused calls to surrender.

“We had to fire on the buildings in order to stop that and to kill the terrorists,” he said.

Israeli forces evacuated displaced civilians sheltering at the compound, as well as some patients, and placed other patients in a building away from the fighting, Admiral Hagari said.

The World Health Organization said on Sunday that at least 21 patients had died since the Israeli raid began in mid-March, though the causes of death were unclear. By this weekend, 107 patients remained — 30 of them bedridden — without drinking water and with only minimal medication, the Gazan Health Ministry said in a statement.

Israeli forces first raided Al-Shifa in November, maintaining that Hamas militants had built a command center in tunnels underneath it. Hamas and the hospital director said the facility was solely used as a refuge for civilians.

The Israeli military later publicized some evidence to support its case, including by showing reporters a fortified tunnel constructed underneath the hospital grounds. An investigation by The New York Times found that the evidence suggested that Hamas had used the site for cover and stored weapons there.

After little more than a week, Israeli troops withdrew in compliance with a brief cease-fire. But after the fighting resumed, Israeli forces closed in on the hospital again in March in an attempt to root out what they said was a renewed insurgency by armed groups in northern Gaza.

“Hamas and Islamic Jihad have started to rebuild themselves in the north,” said Admiral Hagari. “And they re-based themselves inside Shifa.”

Hamas called the destruction at the hospital “a horrific crime” and said Israel had perpetrated it “with full and unlimited support from the administration of U.S. President Biden.”

In a visit to Al-Shifa on Saturday, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the Israeli military chief of staff, declared the raid “extremely successful” and said it had showed militant groups that “a hospital is not a safe place” for them.

Israeli officials and a member of the Revolutionary Guards, which oversee the Quds Force, said the Damascus strike on Monday had targeted a meeting in which Iranian intelligence officials and Palestinian militants were to discuss the war in Gaza. Among them were leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group armed and funded by Iran.

Syria’s defense ministry said the Israeli strike occurred about 5 p.m. local time, when fighter jets entered Syria from the Golan Heights.

The attack came days after airstrikes killed soldiers near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, Syria’s state news media and an independent organization reported, in what appeared to be one of the heaviest Israeli attacks in the country in years.

Those strikes on Friday killed 36 Syrian soldiers, seven Hezbollah fighters and a Syrian from a pro-Iranian militia, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group that tracks Syria’s civil war.

Israel’s military did not comment after those strikes, but its defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said, “We will pursue Hezbollah every place it operates, and we will expand the pressure and the pace of the attacks.” He promised more operations in Lebanon, Syria and “other more distant locations.”

Reporting was contributed by Abu Bakr Bashir, Hwaida Saad, Arijeta Lajka, Riley Mellen, Cassandra Vinograd and Eric Schmitt.


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