Israel flatly denied Hezbollah claims that it was involved in the assassination
of one of its top military commanders in Beirut on Wednesday.
al-Laqqis, who is believed to have commanded Hezbollah troops fighting in
Syria’s civil war, was shot in the head from close range outside his home in the
Hadath district of the Lebanese capital in a killing that the Shi’ite group
immediately blamed on Israel.
“This has strictly nothing to do with
Israel,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. “Hezbollah has made a
fool of itself in the past with these automatic and groundless accusations
against Israel.... If they are looking for explanations as to what is happening
to them, they should examine their own actions.”
Israeli security sources
speculated that the motive for the hit may have been Hezbollah’s guerrilla
support for Syrian President Bashar Assad in his war with Sunni rebels.
previously unknown group, Ahrar al-Sunna Baalbek Brigade, claimed responsibility
for the attack in a message on Twitter. The claim could not be verified, but the
name of the group suggested Lebanese Sunni connections.
Three or four
assailants ambushed Laqqis, according to Lebanese security sources quoted by
Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International.
Laqqis was “very close”
to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, a Hezbollah source told the Turkish
“Laqqis was involved in scientific development and played
a key role in developing Hezbollah’s unmanned aerial vehicles program,” a source
close to the movement told The Daily Star.
He was involved in smuggling
weapons into Gaza and Egypt and had survived numerous assassination attempts,
said the source.
The source close to Hezbollah said Laqqis had taken part
recently in several battles in Syria.
“This enemy [Israel] bears full
responsibility for this heinous crime,” said a statement issued by Hezbollah’s
media relations on the group’s Al-Manar website. Film from the scene, broadcast
on Hezbollah’s Al Manar television, showed two bullet marks in a wall and muddy
footprints it said had been left by possibly more than one
“The Israeli enemy tried to get to our martyr brother several
times, in more than one location, but these attempts failed until this repugnant
assassination,” the group said.
Hezbollah said Laqqis had been with the
group since it was set up with Iranian support in the 1980s to fight Israeli
troops occupying south Lebanon. His son was killed in the 2006 Second Lebanon
War with Israel.
Hundreds of mourners attended Laqqis’s funeral in
Baalbek, following his grey coffin draped in the yellow Hezbollah flag through
the rain swept streets of the Bekaa Valley town.
Speaking at the funeral,
Hezbollah official Sheikh Mohammad Yazbek said that the assassination means that
the organization will continue its fight against Israel, the NOW Lebanon website
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said the assassination was
an attempt by Israel to fuel sectarian conflict.
“The assassination of
[Hajj] Hassan al-Laqqis is the latest episode of Israel’s [attempts] to fuel
sectarian conflict in the country,” Suleiman said according to the
Hezbollah blames Israel for a Damascus car bomb five years ago
which killed top commander Imad Mughniyeh.
It has repeatedly vowed to
avenge Mughniyeh’s murder.
The open role of Hezbollah fighters in the
Syrian civil war and the steady flow of Lebanese Sunnis joining the anti-Assad
rebels have fueled sectarian strife in Lebanon.
Car bombs killed dozens
of people in Beirut in August and a twin suicide attack on the Iranian embassy
in the Lebanese capital killed at least 25 people last month.
close to Hezbollah said Wednesday’s attack bore the hallmarks of an Israeli
operation, and analyst Charles Lister of IHS Jane’s in London said it suggested
an element of “professionalism and prior intelligence.”
“But what is very
clear is that it comes under the context of Hezbollah and its role in Syria,” he
said. “It was expected that Hezbollah would blame Israel, but that is not
necessarily the case.”