Hezbollah military chief killed in Syria


Lebanese fighter group Hezbollah announced on Friday that its top military commander had been killed in an attack in Syria in a major blow to the coalition supporting the Damascus regime.

The group said it was still investigating the cause of the blast near Damascus airport but it did not immediately point the finger at Israel as it did when the commander’s predecessor was assassinated in the Syrian capital in 2008.

The death of Mustafa Badreddine, who had led Hezbollah’s massive intervention in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, came as a fragile truce in the country’s five-year conflict teetered on the brink of collapse.

A six-day-old ceasefire in battleground second city Aleppo expired early Thursday without renewal and rebel sniper fire on the government-held sector of the city killed two civilians, one of them a woman, a monitoring group said.

Heavy air strikes pounded Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front in its Idlib province stronghold in the northwest, killing 16 of its fighters, including a senior commander.

Badreddine had been a key player in Hezbollah’s military wing virtually since its inception.

He was on a US terror sanctions blacklist, was a key suspect in the 2005 assassination in Beirut of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and was one of Israel’s most wanted men.

The Shiite militant group, which now dominates Lebanon’s government, did not specify which of Badreddine’s many enemies it held responsible for his death.

“According to preliminary reports, a large explosion targeted one of our positions near Damascus international airport killing brother commander Mustafa Badreddine and wounding other people,” it said in a statement.

“We are going to pursue an inquiry to determine the nature and causes of the explosion and ascertain whether it was the result of an air strike, a missile or artillery fire.”

Badreddine’s predecessor, Imad Mughniyeh, his cousin and brother-in-law, was killed in Damascus in 2008 in an attack that drew immediate threats by Hezbollah of heavy retaliation against Israel.

It made no such threats after Badreddine’s death.

Israel made no comment, as it did in 2008 too, but Israeli media underlined Hezbollah’s failure to point the finger.