Hezbol­lah blames Is­raelis af­ter com­man­der shot dead in Beirut

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By LAILA BAS­SAM and DO­MINIC EVANS in Beirut, Le­banon Reuters

A Hezbol­lah com­man­der who fought in Syria’s civil war was shot dead out­side his home in Le­banon on Wed­nes­day in an at­tack which the mil­i­tant Shi­ite group blamed on Is­rael.

Is­rael de­nied any role in the killing of Has­san al- Laqqis, who was shot from close range by a si­lenced gun as he ar­rived home at around mid­night in the Ha­dath dis­trict of Beirut, a source close to Hezbol­lah said.

Hezbol­lah, which fought a 34- day war with Is­rael in 2006, also sent fight­ers into neigh­bor­ing Syria to sup­port Pres­i­dent Bashar al- As­sad against mainly Sunni Mus­lim rebels, an in­ter­ven­tion which helped to raise sec­tar­ian ten­sion in Le­banon.

A pre­vi­ously un­known group, the Ahrar al- Sunna Baal­bek brigade, claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack in a mes­sage on Twit­ter. The claim could not be ver­i­fied, but the name of the pur­ported group sug­gested Le­banese Sunni Mus­lim con­nec­tions.

Footage from the scene broad­cast by Hezbol­lah’s Al Ma­nar tele­vi­sion showed two bul­let marks in a wall and muddy foot­prints it said had been left by pos­si­bly more than one as­sailant.

Hezbol­lah de­scribed Laqqis, who was to be buried in Baal­bek in the Bekaa Val­ley later in the day, as “one of the lead­ers of the Is­lamic re­sis­tance” against Is­rael who had been fre­quently tar­geted by the Jewish state.

He had been with Hezbol­lah since it was set up with Ira­nian sup­port in the 1980s to fight Is­raeli troops oc­cu­py­ing south Le­banon. His son was killed in the 2006 war, Hezbol­lah said in a state­ment.

“The Is­raeli enemy tried to get to our mar­tyr brother sev­eral times, in more than one lo­ca­tion, but th­ese at­tempts failed un­til this re­pug­nant as­sas­si­na­tion,” it said.

Is­rael would “bear full re­spon­si­bil­ity and all the con­se­quences for this heinous crime”, it said.

But Is­rael de­nied in­volve­ment. “This has strictly noth­ing to do with Is­rael,” For­eign Min­istry spokesman Yi­gal Pal­mor said.

“Hezbol­lah has made a fool of it­self in the past with th­ese au­to­matic and ground­less ac­cu­sa­tions against Is­rael ... If they are look­ing for ex­pla­na­tions as to what is hap­pen­ing to them, they should ex­am­ine their own ac­tions.”

The source close to Hezbol­lah said Laqqis had taken part in sev­eral bat­tles in­side Syria.

Five years ago, top Hezbol­lah com­man­der Imad Mough­niyah was killed in a Damascus car bomb­ing. Hezbol­lah has blamed Is­rael for Mough­niyah’s death and vowed to avenge it.

Pro­fes­sional hit

The source also said Wed­nes­day’s at­tack bore the hall­marks of an Is­raeli op­er­a­tion, and an­a­lyst Charles Lis­ter of IHS Jane’s in Lon­don said it sug­gested an el­e­ment of “pro­fes­sion­al­ism and prior in­tel­li­gence”.

“But what is very clear is that it comes un­der the con­text of Hezbol­lah and its role in Syria,” he said. “It was ex­pected that Hezbol­lah would blame Is­rael, but that is not nec­es­sar­ily the case.”

The open role of Hezbol­lah fight­ers in the Syr­ian civil war and the steady flow of Le­banese Sun­nis join­ing the anti- As­sad rebels have fu­elled sec­tar­ian strife in Le­banon.

Car bombs killed dozens of peo­ple in Beirut in Au­gust, and a twin sui­cide at­tack on the Beirut em­bassy of Hezbol­lah’s pa­tron Iran killed at least 25 peo­ple last month.

An Ira­nian For­eign Min­istry spokes­woman blamed Is­rael for that at­tack, but re­spon­si­bil­ity was claimed by a Le­banon- based al- Qaidalinked group, the Ab­dul­lah Az­zam bri­gades.

Hezbol­lah leader Sayyed Has­san Nas­ral­lah said he be­lieves the group has sup­port from Saudi Ara­bia, Iran’s main re­gional ri­val whose back­ing for As­sad’s foes has pushed it deeper into a proxy con­flict in Syria against Te­heran.

Ab­dul­lah Az­zam “is not a fic­ti­tious name”, Nas­ral­lah said in an in­ter­view broad­cast on Le­banese tele­vi­sion on Tues­day night. “This group ex­ists ... It has its lead­er­ship ... and I am con­vinced it is linked to Saudi in­tel­li­gence,” he said.

“Saudi Ara­bia is the one who runs th­ese kinds of groups in sev­eral places in the world.”

Has­san al-Laqqis, Hezbol­lah com­man­der

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