'Assassination a severe blow to Hizbullah'

Group threatens to retaliate "anywhere in the world, as we see fit"; Syria and Iran blame Israel for the assasination.

mughniyeh mourning 224.8 (photo credit: AP)
mughniyeh mourning 224.8
(photo credit: AP)
Syria and Hizbullah accused Israel of being behind the assassination of the top Hizbullah operative Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus and vowed to avenge his death. The assassination came as a shock to many Arabs who said they could not understand how the assassins managed to catch up with such a prominent figure, considering the tough security measures taken by Hizbullah and Syrian intelligence services. The consensus among most Arab political analysts was that the assassination was a "severe blow" to Hizbullah and its patrons in Teheran and Damascus. One of them said it would take years for Hizbullah to recover from the assassination and its repercussions. "The fact that the killers managed to reach such an important figure should sound an alarm bell in Hizbullah," he said. "This means that Hizbullah's top brass has been infiltrated by the Israelis and Americans." Another Arab analyst revealed that Mughniyeh had never slept in the same place for more than two nights. And each time he entered a certain house, he would leave it through a back window, the analyst said. "This is a black day for Hizbullah and its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah," he added. "This is a moral victory for Israel and the US." The assassination was announced by Hizbullah about 12 hours after the explosion in his jeep shortly before midnight on Tuesday. Al-Manar TV, the Hizbullah television station, interrupted its regular programs to break the news of Mughniyeh's death. The announcement was followed by the broadcasting of recitations from the Koran - a practice normally reserved for heads of state and high-level officials in the Arab and Islamic world. "With all pride we declare a great jihadist leader of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon has joined the martyrs," said a statement carried on Al-Manar. "Brother and commander hajj Imad Mughniyeh became a martyr at the hands of the Zionist Israelis." A prominent Shi'ite Muslim cleric close to Hizbullah called for the group's military wing to retaliate. "Every attack against the resistance will be met with a response," the head of south Lebanon's religious scholars, Sheikh Afif al-Naboulsi, said. "An eye for an eye, a man for a man, a leader for a leader." Hizbullah legislator Ismail Sukeyir said the organization's leadership would meet in Beirut to discuss its response to the assassination. "Hizbullah has the right to retaliate anywhere in the world and in any way it sees fit," he said. Syria's Interior Minister Brig. Gen. Bassam Abdul-Majid confirmed Mughniyeh's death Wednesday, the state-run news agency SANA reported. It was the first official comment from Syria since Tuesday night's explosion in the Damascus neighborhood of Kfar Sousse. The agency quoted Abdul-Majid as saying an investigation into the blast was under way. "The ongoing investigation over the car bomb in the residential Kfar Sousse neighborhood last night has proven that it targeted Lebanese combatant Imad Mughniyeh," SANA said, quoting Abdul-Majid. "Syria condemns this cowardly terrorist act," SANA quoted Abdul-Majid as saying. Also in Damascus, parliament member Muhammad Habash said that "Israel and its Zionist agents" were behind the assassination. "It's natural that if a prize was offered for Mughniyeh's head, Israel and the US would try to harm him," Habash said. "Of all possible suspects, Israel would have the most to gain," Habash told BBC Arabic. Habash said the assassins knew that Thursday marked the anniversary of Hariri's assassination, expressing hope that commemorative events in Beirut would not spiral out of control in the wake of Mughniyeh's death. Iran's official news agency, IRNA, said the assassination was an "evident example of US and Israeli state terrorism and the role their intelligence agents play in terrorism in the Middle East." The agency said that Mughniyeh had played an "effective role in repulsing Israeli aggression on Lebanon in both 1982 and 2006, and it was apparent that the occupying regime would spare no effort to target him in the category of its state terrorism." The agency pointed out that "it is possible for Israeli agents to come to Damascus in the guise of US nationals and conduct terrorist attacks. A US military delegation, which included the undersecretary of defense, was on a visit to Lebanon and it is likely that the US directly helped Israeli agents assassinate Mughniyeh." The Iranian agency went on to say that "the car-bomb attack showed that the terrorist attack was calculated with great precision and that Israel uses strong terror networks in carrying out similar attacks in both Lebanon and Palestine. In addition, the US Embassy in Beirut had called on American nationals living in Lebanon to keep a low profile from February 13-14. The call was an indication that preparation was afoot for the terrorist attack on Mughniyeh." Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Muhammad Ali Hosseini issued an official condemnation of the killing. "This action is yet another brazen example of organized state terrorism by the Zionist regime," he said, according to IRNA. He called on the world to "prevent the Zionist regime from taking these actions that are a clear violation of international law." Hosseini praised Mughniyeh, saying "undoubtedly, the record of struggles by the martyred fighter Imad Mughniyeh is considered a shining page in the history of popular resistance against the aggressive Zionists and occupiers." Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora sent his condolences to Mughniyeh's family as well as to the Hizbullah leadership. Hamas and other armed Palestinian factions also condemned the assassination, holding Israel and the US responsible. "We condemn this crime, and stress that the Muslim nation must rise and confront the Zionist Satan that is backed by the Americans," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri said. Jpost.com Staff and AP contributed to this report.