BEIRUT/TEHRAN, (Xinhua) — Israel has declared a high state of alert following news of a prominent Hezbollah military leader being killed during an air raid on Damascus late Saturday, sources said Sunday.
Israel has ordered its regular patrols on the border with Lebanon to retreat and its soldiers not to leave their fortified positions in anticipation of any military developments, a security source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity
The source said the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon have also intensified its patrols and observation operation along the Blue Line, a border demarcation between Israel and Lebanon that was published by the United Nations in 2000.
The Lebanese Hezbollah group confirmed Sunday that Samir Kuntar, a prominent leader of the “Islamic Resistance,” has been killed in an Israeli raid near the Syrian capital Damascus.
“Samir Kuntar was martyred in an Israeli raid on the residential district of Jaramana in the Syrian capital,” Hezbollah said in a statement, adding that Israeli planes bombed the building where he lived in Jaramana, but giving no further details.
The group said Kuntar would be buried Monday in a Shiite cemetery in its main stronghold of Dahiya in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
However, ministers with the Israeli cabinet declined to confirm allegations of Israeli involvement in the attack. Israeli Minister of National Infrastructures and Energy Yuval Steinitz said Sunday in Jerusalem that he would not comment on “rumors in the media” about Israel’s responsibility for the killing, but said he is pleased with the result.
Kuntar spent 29 years in an Israeli prison for the murder of three Israeli civilians in 1979, including a young girl. He was released along with four other Lebanese prisoners in a 2008 swap deal between Israel and Hezbollah, in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed during the 2006 war.
Following his release, Kuntar, a Druze, was welcomed as a hero in Beirut and has since been believed to have joined Hezbollah, a group that has sent hundreds of its members to fight alongside forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the nearly five years insurgency in the country.
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In September the United States labeled Quntar on its terror blacklist, saying he had “played an operational role, with the assistance of Iran and Syria, in building up Hezbollah’s infrastructure in the Golan Heights.”
The last time Israel stroke a Hezbollah target was in January 2014 when it hit a convoy in the Golan Heights area of Qunaitra, killing six Hezbollah members and an Iranian commander. Days after Hezbollah retaliated by targeting an Israeli military convoy in the occupied Shebaa Farms, killing two Israeli soldiers.
At the time, Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah vowed to respond to any Israeli attack on the party’s members in Syria.
Meanwhile, Iran on Sunday condemned the killing of Kantar as “state terrorism” of Israel, according to official IRNA news agency. Iranian Foreign Ministry said the attack is a “violation of national sovereignty and the territorial integrity of an independent country.”