Islamic militant killed by airstrikes. Will Hezbollah strike back at Israel?

A high-profile Lebanese militant was killed allegedly by Israeli missiles outside Damascus.

AP Photo/Kevin Frayer
Palestinian protesters hold candles around a portrait of Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese prisoner held in Israel since 1979, in Gaza City, Monday, Nov. 10, 2003. Israel's Cabinet on Sunday narrowly approved a contested prisoner swap with the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, but the release of Kuntar could be a stumbling block.

Samir Kuntar, a high-profile Lebanese militant, was reported dead after an airstrike struck and killed him in his house on the outskirts of Damascus late Saturday evening.

According to Hezbollah’s al-Manar television station in Lebanon, the airstrikes against were carried out by Israel. Israeli officials have yet to comment.

The attack, delivered by four long-range missiles, took place late Saturday evening in a crowded residential complex in Syria. According to pro-government websites, Farhan al-Sha’alan, a leader of the Syrian Resistance in the Golan, a group affiliated with Hezbollah, was also killed in the attack.

Mr. Kuntar was on a US and Israeli terrorist watch list for years, and spent 30 years in an Israeli prison for killing four Israelis – including a father and his 4-year-old daughter in April 1979.

But according to Kuntar’s brother Bassam Kuntar, the mission was not intended to kill the Israelis, only to abduct them, because the Israeli father was a nuclear scientist.

Although Mr. Kuntar received a 542-year life sentence for the attack, he was released in 2008 in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah in 2006. His release was highly controversial and sparked a three-week war with Israel.

Kuntar was regarded as a national hero in Lebanon. Hamas condemned the attack on Twitter, calling the “Israeli assassination” a “heinous crime.” Kuntar’s brother mourned his death on Facebook, writing, “With pride we mourn the martyrdom of the leader Samir Kuntar and we are honored to join families of martyrs.” 

On the other side, Israelis have expressed relief over the news. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog tweeted that Kuntar’s death was a “historic justice,” according to The Washington Post.

“He was a terrorist who refused to abandon the path of murder and terror. The region is safer without him,” Herzog wrote.

“When I heard eight months ago that Samir Kuntar was active in Hezbollah in areas north of Israel, I started to worry that he might kill other families and children,” Smadar Haran Kaiser, the wife of the nuclear scientist murdered by Mr. Kuntar told journalists. “I remember how brutal he was. I worried he might strike again.”

Hezbollah, which operates mainly out of Syria and Lebanon and is a predominantly Shiite militia, has been increasing its military attacks in Syria in a joint effort with Russia to support President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

But the recent airstrike has some worried that the airstrike may prompt another war between Hezbollah and Israel. Already, rocket sirens have been set off in northern Israel, according to Jerusalem Post. Hezbollah’s leader has previously warned there would be retaliations if any Israelis attempted to hurt Hezbollah.

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