Beirut, Tel Aviv- The top military commander of the so-called Hezbollah or the “ghost” was killed in an explosion near the Syrian capital of Damascus, in mysterious circumstances that the party has not revealed yet.
Hezbollah announced the death of Mustafa Badreddine, who is one of the accused in former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s Feb. 2005 assassination, in a statement it issued on Friday.
He was laid to rest the same day.
Hezbollah said it was investigating whether the blast at a base near Damascus Airport, which also wounded several others, was from an air raid, missile attack, artillery shelling or other cause.
The party’s deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Qasem, later hinted the group knew who was behind the killing, saying investigation results could be released soon.
Badreddine joined around 17 other Hezbollah officials who were killed in Syria since the war started there in 2011.
Badreddine had several namings, including “Hezbollah’s man in Syria.” Some called him Qasem Soleimani the Second and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Prosecutor described him as a “ghost,” a shadowy figure.
The death of Badreddine strikes a heavy blow to the militant group, to the Syrian regime and Iran.
The Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV, which is close to Hezbollah, initially said Badreddine was killed in an Israeli airstrike but later took down the report. Israeli officials refused to comment.
The Jewish State never confirms or denies allegations of targeted killings of individuals abroad.
“We don’t know if Israel is responsible for this,” Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Israel’s Army Radio. “Remember that those operating in Syria today have a lot of haters without Israel.”
“But from Israel’s view, the more people with experience, like Badreddine, who disappear from the wanted list, the better,” he said.
One of the top Israeli newspapers, Yediot Ahronot, quoted informed sources as saying that “Israel seemed not to be responsible for Badreddine’s death although he has caused major harm to Israeli interests.”
“This is an open war and we should not preempt the investigation,” said Nawar al-Saheli, a Hezbollah member of Lebanon’s parliament.
“The resistance will carry out its duties at the appropriate time,” he told the group’s Al-Manar TV.
Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov was asked by journalists about Badreddine’s murder.
He refused to comment and said the issue needed an investigation.
“I can only remind you that at the very beginning of the Russian Aerospace Force operation in Syria there were contacts between the Russian and Israeli military on which understanding was reached between President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the communications channels certainly work,” Peskov said.
The White House also said that no aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition were in the area of Damascus where Badreddine was killed.
“There were no U.S. or coalition aircraft in the area where he was reported to be killed,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters, adding that he could not confirm Badreddine’s reported death.