Hezbollah leader killed by Israeli air strike in Damascus

ROCKETS fired from Lebanon hit southern Israel yesterday, hours after an apparent Israeli strike in Syria killed Samir Kantar, a senior Hezbollah operative who spent three decades in prison for carrying out one of the most notorious terrorist attacks in Israeli history.

Lebanese officials told the Associated Press news agency that the rockets were fired from an area south of the Lebanese port city of Tyre. No injuries or damage were reported. Israeli government officials declined to confirm or deny the reports but did not conceal that they were satisfied with the death of Kantar. Ron Ben-Yishai, an Israeli military commentator, wrote on the Ynet news agency website that the Lebanese reports ''more or less reflect the facts in the field''.

Israel held Kantar responsible for spearheading a Hezbollah effort to open up a new battle front against it from the Syrian-held area of the Golan Heights. Without commenting on whether Israel was behind the assassination, Shaul Shay, a former deputy director of Israel's National Security Council, told The Independent: ''He was in the [Israeli] sights so as to prevent future attacks. Israel works consistently to foil the development of a terrorist body in the Golan Heights.''

According to AP, Hezbollah said yesterday that Kantar - known in Lebanon as ''the Dean of Lebanese Prisoners'' - was killed along with eight others in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana on Saturday night. Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV said two Israeli warplanes that violated Syrian airspace fired four long-range missiles at a residential building. The Syrian state news agency, SANA, said Kantar was killed in a ''terrorist and hostile'' missile attack.

Al Mayadeen, the Lebanese television station said that Farhan al-Shaalan, a senior Hezbollah commander, was also killed in the air raid, together with an aide to Kantar. According to Al-Manar TV, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chief, is set to make a televised statement this evening, which is believed to be related to the death of Kantar.

Kantar, a Druze Arab, was sentenced by Israel to three life terms for an attack he carried out as a 16-year-old in 1979, as a member of the Palestine Liberation Front.

He killed a policeman and kidnapped and killed a man, Danny Haran, and his four-year-old daughter, after they crossed into the northern coastal town of Nahariya by sea from Lebanon.

Israel said Kantar bashed the little girl's head with a rifle butt until she died, but he maintained she had been killed in crossfire. Haran's wife, Smadar, accidentally smothered their two-year-old daughter as they hid in a crawl space during the attack. Yesterday she told Israel's Army Radio that Kantar's killing was ''historic justice''.

Kantar was freed in July 2008 with four other Hezbollah guerrillas, in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers held by the Lebanese group. During a visit to Damascus that month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad awarded Kantar the country's highest medal.

Mr Shay, a scholar at the Institute for Policy and Strategy Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, said that if Israel killed Kantar ''the dominant consideration would have been the role he would play in the future and not what he did in the past''.

Israel has been reported to have carried out several strategic strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war there in 2011, all believed to have hit Hezbollah weaponry or personnel, although it rarely claims the strikes.

Yesterday's strike was the first assassination inside Syria attributed to Israel since Russia joined air operations in Syria on 30 September. Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's Defence Minister, has said that Russia and Israel have worked out an open communication system ''to prevent misunderstandings'' between the two countries.

Last January, in another air strike widely attributed to Israel, Hezbollah senior operations officer Jihad Mughniyeh - also implicated in organising Hezbollah operations in the Golan - was killed on the Syrian side of the heights, along with several other Hezbollah members and a prominent Iranian general.

On 1 December Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departed from his usual silence over Israeli moves in Syria, saying: ''We are acting in Syria from time to time to prevent it from becoming a front against us.''

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