A high-profile member of the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah, who had spent years in Israeli prisons, has been killed in Syria in a suspected Israeli air strike, according to Hezbollah.
Samir Kantar was killed along with eight others in a strike on a building in the Jaramana area of the capital Damascus on Sunday morning, al-Manar TV, the official channel of Hezbollah, reported.
“Zionist enemy planes bombed the building where he lived in Jaramana,” Hezbollah said in a statement.
Syrian state television, quoting official sources, said Kantar was killed in a “terror attack”, without elaborating on who was behind the assault.
Kantar’s brother, Bassam, confirmed the death on social media.
“With pride, we mourn the martyrdom of the commander Samir Kantar. We have the honour of becoming among the families of martyrs after being among the families of prisoners for 30 years,” Bassam Kantar tweeted.
At least one Hezbollah commander was among those killed in the air strike, al-Manar reported.
Kantar, who had earned the title of longest-serving Arab prisoner in Israel, was a 16-year-old teenager when he and three other members of the Palestine Liberation Front infiltrated the Israeli village of Nahariya by sea from Lebanon.
He was sentenced to five life terms plus 47 years for murdering Danny Haran, his four-year-old daughter Einat and an Israeli policeman. Kantar has always denied killing the girl or her father.
Haran’s wife, Smadar, accidentally suffocated their two-year-old daughter Yael to death while attempting to quiet her whimpering, which would have revealed their hiding place.
Israel released Kantar in 2008 as part of a prisoner swap with Hezbollah, after which he received a hero’s welcome upon his arrival at Beirut Airport.
In an interview with Al Jazeera in July, 2008, Kantar stated that the operation he was convicted for had “both civilian and military targets”.
“There are no civilian targets – it’s ‘civilian’ in quotation marks,” Kantar said, adding: “The Zionists themselves define the Israeli as a soldier who is on leave for 11 months every year.”
Along with four other freed Lebanese prisoners, he was officially received by the Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and an array of other Lebanese dignitaries.
Hezbollah arranged a public celebration in Dahieh, a southern suburb of Beirut, where the movement’s leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a welcoming speech to Kantar.
It is widely believed he had since become a high-profile commander within Hezbollah.
Kantar is from the Druze sect and was believed to be recruiting Syrian Druze to a paramilitary group, the National Defence Forces in Syria’s south, that supports President Bashar al-Assad.