UN chief criticizes strike on Iranian consulate, warns against ‘further escalation’

Antonio Guterres suggests that any ‘miscalculation could lead to broader conflict,’ following airstrike in Damascus widely attributed to Israel in which IRGC chiefs were killed

Vehicles drive past the cordoned-off Iranian Embassy building as workers remove the rubble of a consular annex a day after it was hit in a strike in Damascus, Syria, April 2, 2024. (Louai Beshara/AFP)
Vehicles drive past the cordoned-off Iranian Embassy building as workers remove the rubble of a consular annex a day after it was hit in a strike in Damascus, Syria, April 2, 2024. (Louai Beshara/AFP)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned on Tuesday a strike on an Iranian consular annex building in Damascus a day earlier, his spokesman said, after the attack — which Tehran has blamed on Israel — killed at least 13 people, including seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“The secretary-general reaffirms that the principle of the inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises and personnel must be respected in all cases in accordance with international law,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Guterres called on “all concerned to exercise utmost restraint and avoid further escalation,” his spokesperson added in a statement.

“He cautions that any miscalculation could lead to broader conflict in an already volatile region, with devastating consequences for civilians who are already seeing unprecedented suffering in Syria, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and the broader Middle East,” Dujarric continued.

Israel has not officially commented on the attack on the building in Damascus, which killed Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who led the Quds force of the IRGC in Lebanon and Syria until 2016. It also killed Zahedi’s deputy, Gen. Mohammad Hadi Hajriahimi, and five other IRGC officers, along with at least one member of Hezbollah.

Zahedi was reportedly responsible for the IRGC’s operations in Syria and Lebanon, for Iranian militias there, and for ties with Hezbollah, and thus the most senior commander of Iranian forces in the two countries. The IRGC is a US-designated terrorist organization.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to the press after a meeting with Jordan’s Foreign Minister at the Foreign Ministry in Amman, on March 25, 2024. (Mohammad Hannon/AFP)

Faced with ongoing attacks by the Iran-backed Hezbollah and Shiite militias throughout the Middle East in the wake of Hamas’s brutal October 7 massacre, which sparked the war in Gaza, Israel has escalated its strikes on Iran-linked terror targets in Syria, reportedly killing numerous IRGC operatives, as well as members of Hezbollah and other Iranian proxy groups.

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. Houthi rebels have also been launching long-range missiles toward Israel, including on Monday.

Turkey on Tuesday also condemned the attack it blamed on Israel, and warned that the incident could lead to a wider conflict in the region.

Anakara said the attack was a violation of international law by Israel, of which it has been harshly critical of over its war on Hamas in Gaza. It called for restraint, common sense and respect for laws from all parties.

IRGC official Mohammad Reza Zahedi, on July 2, 2017. (Ali Khara/Fars Media Corporation, via Wikimedia CC BY 4.0)

Iran and Hezbollah have vowed to respond to the strike, with Iranian state TV reporting that the country’s Supreme National Security Council, a key decision-making body, met late Monday and decided on a “required” reaction.

In an online statement, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi blamed Israel for the attack, saying the “cowardly crime will not go unanswered.”

“After repeated defeats and failures against the faith and will of the Resistance Front fighters, the Zionist regime has put blind assassinations on its agenda in the struggle to save itself,” his statement added.

“The evil Zionist regime will be punished at the hands of our brave men. We will make them regret this crime and the other ones,” Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a message published on his official website.

While Israel does not, as a rule, comment on specific strikes in Syria, it has admitted to conducting hundreds of sorties against Iran-backed terror groups attempting to gain a foothold in the country over the last decade. The Israel Defense Forces says it attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups, chief among them Hezbollah. Additionally, airstrikes attributed to Israel have repeatedly targeted Syrian air defense systems.

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