Teheran says pro-Palestinian rallies held at 2,000 locations

Vowing revenge, Iran pays homage to IRGC generals killed in strike blamed on Israel

‘Martyrs on the road to Jerusalem’: As Israelis brace for possible retaliation, thousands gather for Quds Day commemorations in Tehran

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pays tribute to guards killed in a strike in Syria (IRIB/AFP) and Iranians take part in a funeral procession for the seven Revolutionary Guards, in Tehran, April 5, 2024. (Iran Press/AFP)

Thousands of people gathered in Tehran on Friday for the funerals of seven members of the Revolutionary Guards killed in a strike in Syria that Iran blamed on Israel.

The Guards, including two generals, were killed Monday, with the airstrike leveling the Iranian embassy’s consular annex in Damascus.

Israel has not commented on the strike, but analysts saw it as an escalation of its campaign against Iran and its regional proxies that runs the risk of triggering a wider war beyond the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip.

Friday’s ceremony coincided with the annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day commemoration when Iran and its allies stage marches in support of the Palestinians. Iran’s Press TV, an English-language government mouthpiece, reported that millions of people were rallying around the world, with pro-Palestinian rallies being held at 2,000 locations around Iran.

Iran has said that among the dead in the strike were two brigadier generals from the Guards’ foreign operations arm, the Quds Force: Mohammad Reza Zahedi and Mohammad Hadi Haji Rahimi.

Zahedi was reportedly responsible for the IRGC’s operations in Syria and in Lebanon, for Iranian militias there, and for ties with Hezbollah, and was thus the most senior commander of Iranian forces in the two countries.

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on April 4, 2024, shows the supreme leader praying over the coffins of seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members killed in a strike at Iran’s embassy compound in Damascus, which Tehran blamed on Israel, ahead of their funeral procession. (KHAMENEI.IR / AFP)

The 63-year-old had held a succession of commands in a Guards career spanning more than 40 years, and was the most important Iranian soldier killed since a United States missile strike at Baghdad airport in 2020 killed General Qassem Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force. THE IRGC is a US-designated terrorist group.

Rahimi, who was Zahedis’ deputy and five other IRGC officers were killed in Monday’s strike, along with at least one member of the Hezbollah terror group. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said killed 16 people were killed in total.

Both Iran and its proxy Hezbollah have vowed that Israel will not go unpunished for the attack. Though that possibility has raised the specter of a wider war, two Iranian sources told Reuters that Tehran’s response would be calibrated to avoid escalation.

A billboard displays a portrait of slain Iranian Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi with a slogan in Hebrew saying, “You will be punished,” on April 3, 2024 at Palestine Square in Tehran. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

On Friday, the coffins of the seven slain IRGC members were placed on the trailers of two trucks in one of the largest squares in the Iranian capital, an AFP journalist said.

Pictures of the men killed were displayed on the trucks, accompanied by the slogan “Martyrs on the road to Jerusalem.” The war in Gaza began with Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, in which some 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 were kidnapped and taken to the Strip as hostages. Tehran backs Hamas but has denied any direct involvement in that attack.

Emergency services work at Iran’s consulate after it was hit by an alleged Israeli strike in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April 1, 2024. (AP/Omar Sanadiki)

One placard on Friday echoed Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s pledge to strike back after the Damascus strike, reading: “We will make them regret this crime.”

Mourners held Iranian and Palestinian flags, as well as those from the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group.

“Death to Israel!” and “Death to America!” they chanted.

After Friday’s funeral ceremony in Tehran, the bodies of the Revolutionary Guards killed in Damascus will be taken to their hometowns for burial.

State television broadcast footage of similar gatherings on Friday in other Iranian cities including Mashhad, Qom, Sanandaj and Shahrekord.

Picture provided by the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on April 4, 2024, shows relatives mourning over the coffins of seven Revolutionary Guard Corps members killed in a strike on the country’s consular annex in Damascus, which Tehran blamed on Israel, ahead of their funeral procession. (Khamenei.ir/ AFP)

The Fars news agency reported that among those present was Ziad Nakhala, leader of the Islamic Jihad group that fights alongside Hamas in Gaza.

Revolutionary Guards chief General Hossein Salami also attended the ceremony, as did President Ebrahim Raisi and his predecessor Hassan Rouhani, local media reported.

“We warn you, no enemy act against our holy system will go unanswered,” Salami said, speaking on a podium showing a big placard with the Arabic phrase “Flood of the Free” emblazoned on it.

“The collapse of (the Zionist regime) is very possible and close with God’s grace,” he added, saying the US has become “wildly hated by the world, especially in Muslim-dominated countries” for supporting Israel.

Khamenei said on Wednesday the Damascus strike was a “desperate” effort by Israel that “will not save them from defeat” in Gaza.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to respond to efforts to harm Israelis, as the country geared up for a possible Iranian response to Israel’s alleged assassination of the top Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander in Syria.

Speaking at a meeting of the security cabinet soon after a phone call with US President Joe Biden, Netanyahu said “Iran has been acting against us for years — directly and via proxies. And, therefore, Israel acts against Iran and its proxies — defensively and offensively.”

Netanyahu added: “We will know how to defend ourselves, and we will act according to the simple principle: that those who harm us or plan to harm us, we will harm.”

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