Middle East

Hezbollah vows to hold Israel accountable for Qantar's death

Hashem Safieddine addresses mourners at the funeral of Samir Qantar in Beirut (21 December 2015) Image copyright EPA
Image caption Samir Qantar's coffin was draped with a yellow Hezbollah flag at the funeral in Beirut

Lebanon's Hezbollah movement has vowed that Israel will be held to account for the killing of one of its leading figures in an air strike in Syria.

Speaking at the funeral of Samir Qantar in Beirut, executive council chief Hashem Safieddine warned Israel that it would "pay the price of its crime".

Israel has welcomed his death, but not confirmed it was responsible.

Qantar spent almost 30 years in prison in Israel for murder, but was released in 2008 in an exchange with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah sources say he died along with eight others when missiles fired by Israeli jets hit a block of flats in the Jaramana district of Damascus on Saturday night.

'Treacherous missile'

Thousands of mourners chanted "Death to Israel" as they carried Qantar's coffin, which was draped in Hezbollah's yellow flag, through the streets of the southern Beirut suburb of Ghobeiry on Monday.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that it was behind Qantar's death

In an address at the funeral, Mr Safieddine vowed to avenge Qantar's death.

"If the Israelis imagine that by targeting Samir Qantar they have closed an account, they are very wrong because they know and will know that they have opened accounts that are not closed with a treacherous missile," he said.

On Sunday, Israeli cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz said he was not sorry about Qantar's death, but could not comment on allegations of Israeli involvement.

Qantar, a Lebanese Druze, was 16 years old when he participated in a notorious attack in the Israeli coastal town of Nahariya in 1979 along with three other members of a Palestinian militant group, the Palestine Liberation Front.

Two policemen, another man and his four-year-old daughter were killed in the raid. A two-year-old girl was also accidentally smothered by her mother as she tried to quieten her while hiding in a cupboard.

Almost three decades later, Hezbollah negotiated Qantar's release in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers it captured in 2006. He is believed to have joined the Shia Islamist movement's armed wing upon his return to Lebanon.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption In Lebanon, Qantar was known as "the dean of Lebanese prisoners"

Hezbollah has not said what role Qantar was playing in Syria, where thousands of Hezbollah fighters have been supporting government forces.

But Qantar's brother wrote in the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar that since his release he had been involved in "resistance" against Israel's occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights, and that Israel had tried to kill him six times.

The US said Qantar had become one of Hezbollah's "most visible and popular spokesmen" and had "played an operational role, with the assistance of Iran and Syria, in building up Hezbollah's terrorist infrastructure in the Golan Heights".

Israel is believed to have conducted several air strikes inside Syria since 2011.

In January, a suspected Israeli air strike in the Syrian Golan Heights killed six Hezbollah fighters, including the son of its late military chief Imad Mughniyeh, and an Iranian Revolutionary Guards general.

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