Lebanese media: Top Hezbollah commander killed in IAF strike in Syria

Hezbollah has not confirmed reports of Israel's involvement; Israel has declined to comment.

Mustafa Amine Badreddine (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mustafa Amine Badreddine
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The top commander for Lebanese-based terror organization Hezbollah was reportedly killed in an IDF military operation in Syria overnight Thursday, according to The Lebanese TV station al-Mayadeen.
Mustafa Amine Badreddine was reportedly killed near the Damascus airport. Badreddine is said to be the highest ranking official in the Shi'ite paramilitary group behind the organization's leader, Hassan Nasrallah.
There was no immediate response from Israel which has struck Hezbollah targets inside Syria several times during the country's five-year conflict.  "We decline to comment," an Israeli military spokeswoman said.
Indications are that Israel does not appear to be connected with reports of Badreddine's death.
"He took part in most of the operations of the Islamic resistance since 1982," Hezbollah said in a statement announcing his death. Hezbollah also said it was working to "define the nature of the explosion and its cause, and whether it was the result of an air strike, or missile (attack) or artillery," and did not mention if Israel was directly responsible.
Israel has struck Syria several times since the start of the war five years ago, mostly destroying weaponry such as missiles that Israeli officials said were destined for Hezbollah, Israel's long-time foe in neighboring Lebanon. Last year, it was reported that Lebanese militant leader Samir Kuntar was killed by Israel after a number of rockets hit a building in the Damascus district of Jaramana.
Badreddine moved to the second most powerful position within the Shi'ite fundamentalist group after his brother-in-law, Hezbollah military commander Imad Moughniyah, was killed in 2008. 
The commander's reputation as a ruthless killer and tactician in the Arab world is legendary. In 1984, the Kuwaiti government sentenced him to death after implicating him in a number of deadly bombings, which targeted the American and French embassies and the airport, according to Internet publication The Daily Beast.
He later escaped execution in Kuwait after Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussain, invaded the country in 1990 releasing scores of inmates from numerous prisons. 
Prosecutors for the International Criminal Court have also accused Badreddine of committing numerous war crimes, alleging in a 2011 report that he, along with a small contingent of collaborators, was behind the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. 
In 2012, The US Treasury Department placed Badreddine, also known as Mustafa Badr Al Din, Youssef Badreddine, Sami Issa and Elias Fouad Saab, on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
For years, Badreddine masterminded military operations against Israel from Lebanon and overseas and managed to escape capture by Arab and Western governments by operating clandestinely.
“There are few official records in Lebanon relating to Mustafa Badreddine[… He has never been issued a passport. He has never been issued a driver’s license. He is not the registered owner of any property in Lebanon," a prosecutor for the ICC wrote in a 2011 indictment.
"The authorities have no records of him entering or leaving Lebanon. No records are held by the Ministry of Finance which would reflect that he pays any taxes. There are no bank accounts in any of the banks or any of the financial institutions in the country in his name.”
“Badreddine passes as an unrecognizable and virtually untraceable ghost throughout Lebanon, leaving no footprint,” he added.
Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, is fighting in Syria in support of President Bashar Assad.
Reuters contributed to this article.