DAMASCUS, Syria — A Syrian intelligence agent allegedly killed by Israeli sniper fire was buried Monday in an official funeral attended by hundreds of people near Damascus.
Midhat as-Saleh, a well-known figure in Syria, was fatally shot Saturday in Ain Eltinah, a village along the Israeli border in the Golan Heights where he ran a Syrian government office. Syria said he was killed by Israeli sniper fire. The Israeli military and other officials declined to comment on the charge.
Hebrew media reports claimed as-Saleh had been assisting the Iranian military presence near the border. If the claims are confirmed, it would mark the first time that Israeli snipers are known to have killed someone identified as an Iranian-linked target across the border.
On Monday as-Saleh’s coffin, wrapped in a Syrian flag, was brought in an ambulance from the Mamdouh Abaza hospital in Qunetira to Jaramana, on the outskirts of Damascus, for burial at a Druze cemetery. Hundreds of people attended, among them senior officials and Druze clerics.
As-Saleh’s son, Golan, a 17-year-old student, said that his father had always told him that the Golan Heights would return to Syria.
“I am proud that my father was martyred,” he said.
As-Saleh, from the Israeli Druze village of Majdal Shams, was jailed in Israel for security-related crimes for 12 years until his release in 1997. He then fled across the border to Syria, serving as a member of the Syrian parliament, namely as head of the “Golan Heights portfolio,” according to Syrian media.
In recent years, he has served in Syrian intelligence, still focusing on the country’s efforts to regain the Golan Heights, which were captured by Israel in 1967 and effectively annexed by Jerusalem in 1981.
According to past statements from Israeli officials, as-Saleh in the past worked to recruit people from Majdal Shams — a town whose residents generally do not take Israeli citizenship and who often still identify with Damascus — to serve as assets of the Syrian government and gather intelligence in Israel.
The alleged assassination appeared to be tied to Israel’s ongoing efforts to prevent Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group from establishing a permanent base of operations on the Golan border.
Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes against Iran-linked military targets in Syria over the years — most recently last Wednesday night, according to Syrian media reports — but rarely acknowledges or discusses specific details of its operations.
Israel fears Iranian entrenchment on its northern frontier, and it has repeatedly struck Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Hezbollah.