Hezbollah has confirmed its military commander, Mustafa Badreddine, was killed in Syria earlier this week in a “major explosion” carried out by rebels at Damascus airport.
Media reports in Lebanon and Israel quickly suggested the blast had been caused by an Israeli airstrike, a suggestion to which Hezbollah initially gave weight, announcing it was investigating whether a “missile or artillery strike” had been responsible.
Badreddine was the most senior member of the organisation to have been killed since the death of his predecessor and brother-in-law, Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated by a joint Mossad/CIA operation in the Syrian capital in February 2008.
There was no immediate reaction from the Israeli government, which has authorised at least eight air strikes against targets inside Syria since the start of the civil war five years ago.
Most had targeted anti-aircraft systems that Israeli officials claimed were being moved to Lebanon, where they could pose a threat against its air force.
However, confirming Badreddine’s death in a rebel attack, Hezbollah said without naming any group: “Investigations have showed that the explosion, which targeted one of our bases near Damascus International Airport, and which led to the martyrdom of commander Mustafa Badreddine, was the result of artillery bombardment carried out by takfiri groups in the area.
“He said months ago that he would not return from Syria except as a martyr or carrying the flag of victory. He is the great jihadi leader Mustafa Badreddine, and he has returned today a martyr.”
Badreddine was born in 1961 in the southern Beirut suburb of Ghobeiry, and rose to greater prominence after Mughniyeh’s assassination.
Hezbollah has been fighting Syrian rebels alongside the Assad regime for nearly four years.