Suspected Israel airstrike kills key Lebanese militant in Syria

cap: A residential building in Jaramana city, on the outskirts of Damascus, lies in ruins after a suspected Israeli airstrike on Dec 20, 2015.
cap: A residential building in Jaramana city, on the outskirts of Damascus, lies in ruins after a suspected Israeli airstrike on Dec 20, 2015. PHOTO: EPA/SANA

DAMASCUS, SYRIA (BLOOMBERG) - An Israeli airstrike in Syria killed a Hezbollah militant who served nearly three decades in an Israeli prison for a 1979 attack that left four people dead, including a father and his two daughters, the Lebanese group said.

Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese Druze, was killed in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, Hezbollah said in a statement on Sunday (Dec 20).

A number of Syrian nationals also died in the attack, it said. The Israeli military had no comment.

Several suspected Israeli airstrikes have targeted Hezbollah gunmen and convoys in Syria, where the militant group is supporting President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war.

Hezbollah's ability to retaliate at this point would be more limited because of its involvement in Syria's conflict.

Kuntar was convicted by an Israeli court of killing a 4- year-old girl and her father after infiltrating from Lebanon by sea in a four-man cell. Kuntar repeatedly denied murdering the girl and said she died in crossfire with Israeli forces.

 The child's mother, who took refuge in a crawlspace, accidentally smothered her other daughter trying to silence her cries, Israel has said.

"In a sense, historical justice has been done," Smadar Haran, the wife and mother of the attack's victims said in an Army Radio interview. She said in a conference call with journalists that she had heard about a year ago that Kuntar had become active in Hezbollah. "I started to worry that he might attack other families and kill other children," she said.

Haran recounted how Kuntar killed her husband, then smashed her 4-year-old daughter's skull. Details of the murder made his 2008 release in a prisoner swap controversial. He was freed as part of an exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah, whose capture sparked Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon.

"We have no idea who killed Samir Kuntar but whoever it was should be thanked by all of Israel," said Avidor Liberman, head of the opposition Yisrael Beitenu party and a member of parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee.

"This is a despicable murderer, a murderer who never expressed remorse and the minute he was released in the deal with Hezbollah continued to act against Israel."

Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser, said the absence of an official claim of responsibility might head off retaliation.

"I'm not sure it's Israel because there are so many people in Syria who have their own reason to kill these guys who are helping Assad," said Amidror. "At the end of the day, it's good for Israel but I'm not sure Israel did it."