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PM, Putin discuss anti-terror efforts in wake of Kuntar killing

Israeli, Russian leaders said to coordinate activity, even as Russia fights alongside ally Hezbollah in Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, greeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow, September 21, 2015. (Israeli Embassy in Russia/Flash90/via JTA)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, greeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow, September 21, 2015. (Israeli Embassy in Russia/Flash90/via JTA)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office said, two days after the reported assassination by Israel early Sunday morning of Hezbollah-affiliated terrorist Samir Kuntar in a Damascus suburb.

The call reflects Israeli and Russian efforts to coordinate steps while Russia supports sworn enemies of Israel in its efforts to prop up its ally Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war.

Kuntar was a close ally of Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group that has sworn to destroy Israel but constitutes a key military force fighting with Russia alongside Syrian government troops and pro-Assad militias.

In their Tuesday phone call, Netanyahu and Putin agreed to coordinate “anti-terror” efforts, and discussed the Syria war, according to the Russian news agency RIA.

Israel has not acknowledged carrying out the missile strike that killed Kuntar early Sunday, but officials expressed satisfaction at his death.

In this July 17, 2008, file photo, Samir Kuntar salutes people as he arrives to pay respect at the grave of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, south of Beirut, Lebanon (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
In this July 17, 2008, file photo, Samir Kuntar salutes people as he arrives to pay respect at the grave of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, south of Beirut, Lebanon (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

A Lebanese Druze, Kuntar became infamous for a brutal 1979 raid from Lebanon in which he helped kidnap an Israeli family from Nahariya, then smashed the head of a four-year-old Israeli girl, Einat Haran, with his rifle butt, killing her. Three other Israelis, including her father, Danny Haran, were killed in the attack. Kuntar was imprisoned in Israel for 29 years before being released in 1998 in a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah.

According to the Ynet news site, Arab media outlets have wondered why Russia didn’t use its S-400 air defense system, deployed to its Hmeimim military base on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, to prevent the purported Israeli strike.

Pundits have speculated Russia may be coordinating with Israel in Jerusalem’s operations against Hezbollah and its supply routes through Syria.

Such coordination was denied on Monday by the Kremlin, whose spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he did not know of any Israeli warning about an impending strike.

Russian servicemen prepare a Russian Sukhoi Su-30SM fighter jet before a departure for a mission at the Russian Hmeimim military base in Latakia province, in the northwest of Syria, on December 16, 2015.  (AFP/Paul GYPTEAU)
Russian servicemen prepare a Russian Sukhoi Su-30SM fighter jet before a departure for a mission at the Russian Hmeimim military base in Latakia province, in the northwest of Syria, on December 16, 2015. (AFP/Paul GYPTEAU)

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report

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