Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed in a televised address Monday evening that his Lebanon-based Shiite terror group would respond to the killing of notorious operative Samir Kuntar, which it blamed on Israel.
“We reserve the right to respond to this assassination at the time and place of our choosing. We in Hezbollah will exercise that right,” he said in his address from Beirut.
Hezbollah has said Kuntar, who spent nearly three decades in an Israeli prison for his part in the brutal 1979 murders of a Nahariya family, was killed along with eight others in an overnight Saturday airstrike on a residential building in Jaramana, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital of Damascus.
“I hold Israel responsible for the assassination of Kuntar,” Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah recalled the first time he met Kuntar after he was released from prison in Israel.
“Kuntar told me the first day we met, ‘I left Palestine to return to Palestine,'” he said. “Kuntar refused to take any political or public responsibilities, he only wanted to fight Israel.”
The Hezbollah leader accused Israel of firing guided missiles at the building where Kuntar was living. He dismissed some Syrian reports to the effect that it wasn’t Israel, but rather rebels, who killed Kuntar.
“We have no doubt that the Israeli enemy was behind the assassination in a blatant military operation,” he said, according to the Naharnet news site.
Nasrallah also praised the Palestinian youths who have been involved in the current wave of terror attacks against Israel, and noted admiringly that Kuntar was only a teenager himself when he carried out his most notorious attack, in which he smashed in the head of an Israeli child.
Earlier in the day, during Kuntar’s funeral in a Hezbollah stronghold south of the capital Beirut, the terror group’s Executive Assembly chief Hashim Safi Al Din threatened revenge against Israel for the slaying.
“If the Israeli thinks he settled the score with Kuntar’s assassination, then he is wrong,” Al Din said. “He knows he only set new scores. If Israel hasn’t learned from all of its failed attempts to assassinate senior commanders, then it ought to know it committed a new stupid act by assassinating Kuntar.”
Israel has not confirmed that it was behind the attack, although officials have expressed satisfaction over Kuntar’s death. There have also been Israeli reports that Kuntar was planning fresh terror attacks against Israel.
A Lebanese Druze, Kuntar took part in the 1979 raid from Lebanon in which he helped kidnap members of the Haran family from Nahariya. The family’s four-year-old daughter, Einat, was killed when Kuntar smashed her head with his rifle butt. Three others, including her father, Danny, were also murdered in the attack. Kuntar was 16 at the time, and a member of the Palestine Liberation Front.
Kuntar spent 29 years in an Israeli prison before being traded to Hezbollah in 2008 in exchange for the bodies of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Following his release, he took on a senior role in the group, was honored by then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and by Syrian President Bashar Assad, and helped to organize Syrian Druze on the Golan Heights and elsewhere into terror cells charged with carrying out attacks against Israel.