BEIRUT • Lebanese Hizbollah militant leader Samir Qantar was killed in an Israeli air strike in Damascus, the Lebanese group and Syrian government sources said.
Israel welcomed his death yesterday, saying he had been preparing attacks on it from Syrian soil, but stopped short of confirming responsibility for the strike that killed him.
Hizbollah, a Shi'ite Muslim group, said Qantar was "martyred" in an Israeli raid on the residential district of Jaramana in the Syrian capital, but gave no details.
Israel released Qantar, a Druze, in 2008 as part of a prisoner swap with Iranian-backed Hizbollah and he is since believed to have joined the group, which has sent hundreds of its members to fight alongside forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. On his release, Qantar was welcomed as a hero in Beirut.
Hizbollah's official media said Qantar would be buried today in a Shi'ite cemetery in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al Zubi said the authorities were investigating the attack but pointed the finger towards Israel, though he fell short of blaming it.
"The party that gains most from the assassination of Qantar is the Zionist enemy whom we have long known for these cowardly attacks," Mr Zubi told Hizbollah's Manar television station.
Official Syrian media said an Israeli aerial strike hit a six-storey residential building in the Jaramana district. "I am not confirming or denying anything to do with this matter," Israeli Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Gallant told Israel Radio. He added: "It is good that people like Samir Qantar will not be part of our world."
Qantar was jailed in Israel for his part in a 1979 raid that killed four people, including a girl he was convicted of bludgeoning.
Israel has struck Syria several times since the start of the war there almost five years ago, mostly destroying weaponry such as missiles that Israeli officials said were destined for Hizbollah, Israel's long-time foe in neighbouring Lebanon.
After his release, Qantar kept a low public profile and it was not immediately clear what role Qantar, born in 1962, played in the fighting in Syria.
Syrian state media said Qantar was involved in a major offensive launched earlier this year by the Syrian army and its allies near the Syrian Golan Heights, in Quneitra near the Israeli border, against rebels fighting to topple Mr Assad.