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Israeli strike kills Hezbollah men in Syria, risking retaliation

Sources in Beirut say among the dead is Jihad Moughniyah, son of Hezbollah's former military chief. Hezbollah, fighting alongside Assad's forces in Syria, has warned of eventual retaliation.

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An Israeli helicopter strike in Syria killed a Hezbollah commander, who also happened to be the son of the group's late military leader Imad Moughniyah, sources close to Hezbollah said. His killing could spark retaliation against Israel by the Lebanese Shiite army and political party.

The strike hit a convoy carrying Jihad Moughniyah and other Hezbollah members, in the Syrian province of Quneitra, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Lebanese sources said, killing five Hezbollah members in all.

It comes just days after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said frequent Israeli strikes in Syria amount to serious aggression and that Syria and its allies had the right to respond.

Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006, has been fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria's civil war.

The Hezbollah-run al-Manar news channel said the attack suggested "the enemy has gone crazy because of Hezbollah's growing capabilities and it could lead to a costly adventure that will put the Middle East at stake".

Israel's military declined to comment, but an Israeli security source confirmed to Reuters that the Israeli military had carried out the attack.

It was not immediately clear what role Jihad Moughniyah, in his 20s, was playing in the fighting in Syria.

Assassination

Hezbollah has accused Israel of carrying out the 2008 assassination of Imad Moughniyah, who was killed by a car-bomb in Damasus. The senior Moughniyah was head of Hezbollah's security network and had been accused of involvement in high-profile attacks on Western targets. Israel denies any involvement in that killing.

Nabil Boumonsef, a columnist at the Lebanon newspaper an-Nahar, said he believed the strike was a direct response to Nasrallah's speech and could lead to a backlash.

"Killing the son of Moughniyah is dangerous. I do not think that the group can be quiet now, now that the father and the son are killed. I expect that it will do something,” he said.

UN peacekeepers intensified their patrols on the border between Lebanon and Israel on Sunday night, local sources said.

Al-Manar did not mention Moughniyah, but confirmed that a number of fighters were killed when they were checking an area in Quneitra when there convoy came under Israeli missile attack. It said Hezbollah would announce the names of the dead later.

Quneitra has seen heavy fighting between forces loyal to Assad and rebels, including fighters linked to al Qaeda. Syrian state television said six people were killed in the attack and a child was wounded, without giving further details.

Degrading Hezbollah

Israel has struck Syria several times since the start of the war, mostly destroying weaponry that Israeli officials alleged were destined for Hezbollah, Israel's long-time foe.

Syria said last month that Israeli jets had bombed areas near Damascus international airport and in the town of Dimas, near the border with Lebanon.

Imad Moughniyah was on the United States' most wanted list for the attacks on Israeli and Western targets. He was implicated in the 1983 bombings of the US Embassy and US Marine and French peacekeeping barracks in Beirut, which killed over 350 people, as well as the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the kidnapping of Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s.

The United States indicted him for his role in planning and participating in the June 14, 1985, hijacking of a US TWA airliner and the killing of an American passenger.

Nasrallah said on Thursday "the frequent attacks on different sites in Syria is a major breach. We consider (those) hostilities (to be) against all the resistance axis... (Retaliation) is an open issue ... When this right will be executed is subject to certain criteria ... it could happen any time."

Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and some Palestinian factions consider themselves an "axis of resistance" against Israel.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; Writing by Oliver Holmes and Mariam Karouny in Beirut; Editing by Alison Williams)

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