Influential Lebanese militant killed in Israeli strike inside Syria

  • AP
  • Updated: Dec 20, 2015 14:30 IST
In this file photo, released prisoner Samir Kantar salutes people as he arrives to pay respect at the grave of slain top Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh in Lebanon. (AP)

Lebanese militant leader Samir Qantar was killed in an Israeli strike that hit a building in the Damascus district of Jaramana in the early hours on Sunday, the Lebanese Hezbollah group and Syrian government loyalists said.

Samir Kantar, who was convicted of carrying out one of the most notorious attacks in Israeli history, had spent nearly three decades in an Israeli prison.

Hezbollah said Kantar, known in Lebanon as “The Dean of Lebanese Prisoners” for being the longest-held prisoner in Israel, was killed along with eight others in the strike in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana Saturday night.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said two Israeli warplanes that violated Syrian airspace fired four long-range missiles at the residential building in Jaramana Saturday night. It aired footage of what it said was the building, which appeared to be completely destroyed. Kantar’s brother, Bassam, confirmed his “martyrdom” in a Facebook posting Sunday.

There was no immediate comment from Israel. The Israeli news website Ynet ran a headline Sunday saying: “The account is now closed.”

Kantar and four Hezbollah guerrillas were freed in 2008 in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah in 2006, whose capture sparked a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah. His release was highly controversial in Israel, where he is believed to be the perpetrator of one of the most grisly attacks in Israeli history.

A file picture shows Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah (R) speaking next to freed Lebanese prisoner Samir Kantar (L) at a stadium in Beirut's southern suburbs. (AFP)

As a teenager, Kantar joined a Palestinian militant group known as the “Palestine Liberation Front” at the height of Palestinian-Israeli violence in the Middle East and at a time when most Palestinian groups were based in Lebanon.

Kantar was imprisoned in 1979 in Israel and sentenced to three life terms after he and three other Lebanese infiltrated the Jewish State in 1979 and staged an attack in the northern coastal town of Nahariya, killing a policeman and then kidnapping a man, Danny Haran, and his 4-year-old daughter and killing them outside their home.

Israel says Kantar, who was 16 at the time, beat the girl to death by bashing her head with a rifle butt. He denies this, saying the girl was killed in the crossfire. As the attack unfolded, the girl’s mother, Smadar Haran, hid inside a crawl space inside their home and accidentally smothered their crying 2-year-old daughter, fearing Kantar would find them.

The widow, Smadar Haran, told Israel’s Army Radio Sunday that Kantar’s killing was a “historic justice.”

Israel held on to Kantar for decades, hoping to use him as a bargaining chip to win new information about an Israeli airman whose plane crashed in Lebanon in 1986.

It ultimately traded him in 2008 along with four other Lebanese prisoners in exchange for the bodies of two of its soldiers.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah insisted at the time that Kantar be included in any swap.

Kantar, 53, received a hero’s welcome upon his return to Lebanon. Assad awarded him the country’s highest medal during a trip he made to Damascus that year.

In this file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad shakes hands with Samir Kantar in Damascus, Syria. (AP)

Soon afterward, Kantar, a Druze, joined Hezbollah, his role growing quietly within the group’s ranks particularly following the group’s involvement in the civil war in Syria in support of President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Kantar is the most high profile Hezbollah fighter to be killed since last year.

In January 2014, the Lebanese group accused Israel of carrying out an airstrike on the Syrian side of 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 assassinated in 2008 in Damascus.

Hezbollah reported Kantar’s killing but did not immediately vow revenge for his killing, as it did for Mughniyeh’s killing.

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