Israel denies killing Hezbollah commander

One of Hezbollah's top leaders has been killed in Lebanon but Israel denies claims by the group that it was behind the assassination.


Hassan Hawlo al-Lakiss. (AAP)

Hezbollah says one of its top leaders has been killed near Beirut, and blames Israel, at a time of soaring tensions in Lebanon linked to the war in neighbouring Syria.

The dead man, identified as Hassan Hawlo al-Lakiss, was the group's most senior figure to be assassinated since Imad Mughniyeh in a Damascus bombing in 2008, when Hezbollah again blamed Israel.

Lakiss, virtually unknown before his death was made public, belonged to Hezbollah's secretive senior leadership.

"The Islamic resistance announces the death of one of its leaders, the martyr Hassan Hawlo al-Lakiss, who was assassinated near his house in the Hadath region" east of Beirut, Hezbollah said.

"Direct accusation is aimed of course against the Israeli enemy which had tried to eliminate our martyred brother again and again and in several places but had failed, until yesterday (Tuesday) evening.

"This enemy must bear full responsibility for all the consequences of this heinous crime," Hezbollah's Al-Manar television channel said.

Israel dismissed the accusation and warned the Lebanese militant group, with which it fought a 2006 war, against any reprisal against its territory.

"If Hezbollah attacks Israeli territory, our response will be firm and painful," army radio quoted Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon as saying.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the allegation was "yet another Pavlovian response from Hezbollah, which makes automatic accusations before even thinking about what's actually happened".

"Israel has nothing to do with this," Palmor said.

Two previously unknown groups identifying themselves as Sunnis issued separate claims of responsibility.

The Free Sunnis Brigade of Baalbek called the killing revenge for "abuses" of Sunnis in Baalbek, a Hezbollah bastion in eastern Lebanon and Lakiss's native city.

Ansar al-Umma al-Islamiya said it murdered Lakiss because he was "Hezbollah's field commander and directly responsible for the massacre in Qusayr", a Syrian rebel town that fell to regime forces in June with Hezbollah's help.

Hezbollah television said Lakiss was shot repeatedly with a silenced handgun after parking at the building where he lived, adding that there was more than one assailant.

A Hezbollah source called Lakiss a "personal friend and one of the closest people to (Hezbollah chief) Hassan Nasrallah, both on the personal and party levels".

The source added: "Part of his work was to ensure the organisation of Nasrallah's security."

Hezbollah emerged during Lebanon's civil war in the 1980s with the aim of driving Israeli forces out of the country and battled the Jewish state to a bloody stalemate in the 2006 conflict.

Hezbollah said Lakiss's son was killed in that war, which claimed the lives of some 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and more than 150 Israelis, mainly soldiers.

3 min read
Published 5 December 2013 at 1:09am
Source: AAP