Lebanon’s Hezbollah announced on Friday that its top military commander Mustafa Badreddine had been killed in an attack in Syria, where the Shia militant group has deployed thousands of fighters in support of the Damascus regime.The group said it was still investigating the cause of the blast near Damascus airport and it did not immediately point the finger at Israel as it did when the commander’s predecessor Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in the Syrian capital in 2008.Hezbollah MP Nawar al-Saheli, however, accused Israel of orchestrating the killing. “This is an open war and we should not pre-empt the investigation but certainly Israel is behind this,” he told the Hezbollah-controlled al-Manar TV station.
The death of Badreddine, who was leading the Shia group’s intervention in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime since the start, comes at a time when a fragile truce in the country’s five-year conflict teeters on the brink of collapse.Badreddine had been a key player in Hezbollah’s military wing virtually since its inception. He was on a U.S. terror sanctions blacklist, was a key suspect in the 2005 assassination in Beirut of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and was one of Israel’s most wanted The Shia militant group, which now dominates Lebanon’s government, did not specify which of Badreddine’s many enemies it held responsible for his death.“According to preliminary reports, a large explosion targeted one of our positions near Damascus international airport killing brother commander Mustafa Badreddine and wounding other people,” it said in a statement. “We are going to pursue an inquiry to determine the nature and causes of the explosion and ascertain whether it was the result of an air strike, a missile or artillery fire.”Damascus airport lies to the east of the capital. Various rebel groups have a strong presence in the countryside, although pro-government forces have secured the highway to it for the past two years or more.Badreddine’s predecessor, Imad Mughniyeh, his cousin and brother-in-law, was killed in Damascus in 2008 in a joint operation by the CIA and the Mossad. — AFP