BEIRUT • Top Hizbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine has been killed in an attack in Syria, the Lebanese Shi'ite group said yesterday, in the biggest blow to the Iranian- backed organisation since its military chief was killed in 2008.
Badreddine, 55, was one of the group's highest-ranking officials and assessed by the United States government to be responsible for Hizbollah's military operations in Syria, where it is fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The killing of Badreddine, a brother-in-law of the late Hizbollah military commander Imad Moughniyah, is the latest big loss suffered by Hizbollah and Iran in Syria despite Russian military intervention in support of Mr Assad and his allies.
Hizbollah has lost at least four prominent figures since January last year, and a number of high- ranking Iranian officers have also been killed either fighting Syrian insurgents or in Israeli attacks.
Hizbollah said Badreddine was killed in a big explosion targeting one of its bases near Damascus airport, and an investigation was under way into whether it was caused by an air strike, a missile attack or artillery bombardment.
It did not say when he was killed.
Lebanese TV station al-Mayadeen earlier reported that he had been killed in an attack by Israel, which has struck Hizbollah targets in Syria several times during the conflict that began in 2011.
There was no immediate response from Israel, which deems Hizbollah its most potent enemy and worries that it is becoming entrenched on its Syrian front and acquiring more advanced weaponry.
Hizbollah, a political and military movement and Lebanon's most powerful group, has grown ever stronger since forcing Israel to end its 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000. The sides fought a 34-day war in 2006, their last major conflict.
Hizbollah's al-Manar TV said Badreddine would be buried in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
Badreddine was sentenced to death in Kuwait for his role in bomb attacks there in 1983. He escaped from prison in Kuwait after Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, invaded the country in 1990.
His release from jail in Kuwait was one of the demands made by the hijackers of a Trans World Airlines flight in 1985 and by the hijackers of a Kuwait Airways flight in 1988.
For years, Badreddine masterminded military operations against Israel from Lebanon and overseas and managed to escape capture by Arab and Western governments by operating clandestinely.
He was also one of five Hizbollah members charged by the United Nations-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon over the 2005 killing of statesman Rafik al-Hariri. The group denied any involvement and said the charges were politically motivated.
A US Treasury Department statement detailing sanctions against Badreddine last year said he had led Hizbollah ground offensives in the Syrian town of al-Qusayr in 2013, a critical battle in the war when Hizbollah fighters defeated Syrian rebels in an area near the Syrian-Lebanese border.