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No US involvement in strike on Iran's Damascus mission, White House says

An excavator clears rubble after a suspected Israeli strike on Iran's consulate, in Damascus

By Jonathan Landay and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Tuesday said it was not involved in an Israeli airstrike on Iran's embassy compound in the Syrian capital of Damascus that killed two Iranian generals and five military advisers.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby dismissed as "nonsense" Iranian charges of U.S. responsibility for Monday's bombing, and he warned that Washington would respond to any retaliatory attacks.

"Let me make it clear. We had nothing to do with the strike in Damascus," he told a briefing. "We weren't involved in any way."

The Damascus strike threatened to escalate the years-long confrontation between Israel and Iran and its proxy militias that have intensified since fighting erupted in October between Israel and Iran-backed Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.

In response to U.S. support for Israel, Iran-backed militias have targeted U.S. military bases in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, although there have been no such attacks since early February following U.S. retaliatory strikes.

"We always take our force protection very seriously, to protect our troops, our facilities in Iraq and Syria," said Kirby. "We will do whatever we need to do to protect those troops."

Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said Israel provided no advance warning of the strike on the Iranian mission in the Syrian capital.

"We were not notified by the Israelis about their strike or the intended target of their strike in Damascus," Singh told a briefing, adding that Iran had been privately told the U.S. was not behind the strike.

Shortly before the attack, Israel notified the United States that it would be operating in Syria, but used vague language that did not identify a target, two officials said on condition of anonymity.

Israel "did not include any details on who they were targeting or where it would be conducted, and the strike was already under way before word could be passed through the U.S. government," said one official.

Iran on Tuesday said it would retaliate against Israel for the strike that destroyed its embassy's consular section and killed seven members of Iran's Quds Force, an elite contingent of the Revolutionary Guards Corps that conducts paramilitary and espionage operations outside Iran.

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Idrees Ali; additional reporting by Matt Spetalnik; Editing by Don Durfee, Costas Pitas and Cynthia Osterman)