Hezbollah’s top military commander Mustafa Badreddine has been killed in a blast at a base near Damascus airport, the Lebanese Shi’ite group said on Friday, one of the biggest blows to its leadership the Iranian-backed organization has ever sustained.
Hezbollah did not immediately say on Friday who it blamed for the attack, but its deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said there were clear indications of who was behind it, and the group would announce the outcome of its investigation within hours. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
At least one Hezbollah figure blamed the group’s age-old enemy Israel, which has struck Hezbollah targets in Syria several times in the past since civil war started there in 2011. Israel declined to comment, but a former Israeli official said his country would be glad Badreddine was dead.
Hezbollah also has many other foes in Syria, where it fights in support of the government of President Bashar al-Assad against a range of Sunni Muslim groups including Islamic State.
Thousands of Hezbollah fighters and leaders gathered at a mosque in Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Beirut and gave Badreddine a military funeral, waving Hezbollah flags. They chanted Shi’ite religious slogans, as well as “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”.
Speaking at the funeral, Qassem also vowed that the group would continue on the “path” of Badreddine.
In a letter, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif extended condolences “for the martyrdom of this great jihadist … who embodied devotion and vigor and was legendary in his defense of high Islamic goals and his defense of the Lebanese people who resist oppression and terrorism.”
The U.S. government believed Badreddine, 55, was in charge of Hezbollah’s military operations in Syria.
He is the most senior Hezbollah official killed since 2008 when his brother-in-law, long-serving military commander Imad Moughniyah, was blown up by a bomb planted in his car in Damascus that Hezbollah blamed on Israel.
The latest killing follows other recent losses for Hezbollah and Iran in Syria, despite Russian military intervention in support of Assad and his allies in a five year multi-sided civil war that has drawn in neighboring states and world powers.
At least four prominent figures in Hezbollah have been killed since January 2015. A number of high-ranking Iranian officers have also been killed, either fighting Syrian insurgents or in Israeli attacks. (Courtesy Reuters)