An Israeli air strike killed Hezbollah militant leader Samir Qantar in Damascus early yesterday, the Lebanese group and Syrian state media said.
Israel welcomed Qantar’s death, saying he had been preparing attacks on it from Syrian soil, but stopped short of confirming responsibility for the strike that killed him.
A former national security adviser to Israel said he doubted the strike would escalate hostilities between Israel and Iranian-backed Hezbollah, whose last major confrontation was in 2006.
Israel has formally kept out of Syria’s civil war which started almost five years ago but has bombed Hezbollah targets there without publicly acknowledging these sorties.
Hezbollah, a powerful Shi’ite Muslim group that has sent hundreds of fighters to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad against rebels trying to topple him, said Qantar was “martyred” in an Israeli raid on the residential district of Jaramana in the Syrian capital yesterday, but gave no details.
Jailed in Israel for his part in a 1979 raid in Israel that killed four people, Qantar, a Druze, was repatriated to Lebanon in 2008 in a prisoner swap with Hezbollah, which he is then believed to have joined.
Yaakov Amidror, Israel’s former national security adviser, predicted Hezbollah would seek to exact “small revenge” for Qantar’s killing, but said Hezbollah, like Iran, was likely too busy fighting in Syria to afford a new front with Israel.
“It would not be in their interest, and if they did so, they would have a big problem,” Amidror said, alluding to Israel’s threats to respond to any major Hezbollah attack with strikes in Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s official media said Qantar would be buried today in a Shi’ite cemetery in its main stronghold of Dahiya in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The party opened a condolences hall to receive the public.