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Lebanese militant killed in airstrike

December 20, 2015

Lebanese militant leader Samir Kantar has been killed in an apparent Israeli strike that hit a building in the Syrian capital Damascus. Israel had released Kantar in 2008 as part of a prisoner swap with Hezbollah.

Libanon Samir Kuntar ehemaliger PLF-Anführer
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/N. Mounzer

Lebanese militant leader Samir Kantar has been killed by an airstrike that hit a building in the Syrian capital, Damascus. Israel had released Kantar in 2008 as part of a prisoner swap with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah's Manar TV claimed Sunday that Israeli warplanes had violated Syrian airspace and fired four long-range missiles at the residential building in Jaramana. He added that the airstrike killed eight people including the militant leader. That claim was repeated by the National Defense Forces, a pro-Assad militia in Syria.

"Two Israeli warplanes carried out the raid which targeted the building in Jaramana and struck the designated place with four long range missiles," the NDF in Jaramana Facebook page said.

Jaramana is a bastion of government support and is the home of many of Syria's Druze minority as well as Christians.

"With pride we mourn the martyrdom of the leader Samir Kantar and we are honored to join families of martyrs," his brother, Bassam Kantar wrote on Facebook.

An Israeli cabinet minister welcomed the killing of Kantar - a Druze - but would not comment on whether Israel was responsible for the attack.

"I am not confirming or denying anything to do with this matter," Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Gallant told Israel Radio on Sunday. "It is good that people like Samir Kantar will not be part of our world."

Kantar had earned the title of longest-serving Arab prisoner in Israel. He was a teenager when he and three other members of the Palestine Liberation Front infiltrated the Israeli village of Nahariya by sea from Lebanon.

The 16-year-old helped kill an Israeli policeman and then kidnapped and killed a man and his 4-year-old daughter outside their home. He was captured and imprisoned in 1979 but freed 29 years later part of a prisoner swap that traded the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed by Hezbollah during Israel's 2006 incursion into southern Lebanon.

Libanon Samir Kuntar ehemaliger PLF-Anführer
Following his release by Israel, Kantar received a hero's welcome upon his return to Lebanon in 2008Image: Getty Images/H. Prison

"The Dean of Lebanese Prisoners"

After his release, Kantar kept a low public profile, marrying a Lebanese woman and moving to Syria. It is believed that he had become a commander in Hezbollah, which has sent hundreds of its members to fight alongside forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The United States placed 53-year-old Kantar on its terror blacklist in September, saying he had "played an operational role, with the assistance of Iran and Syria, in building up Hezbollah's terrorist infrastructure in the Golan Heights."

Hezbollah accused Israel of carrying out a January 2014 airstrike on the Golan Heights, which killed several Hezbollah members and a prominent Iranian general. Among the Hezbollah members was Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh, a top Hezbollah operative killed in 2008 in Damascus.

jar/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP)