Hezbollah’s top commander in Syria, Mustafa Badreddine, was killed in a purported Israeli airstrike in the country earlier this week, according to Lebanese media reports.
A statement from the organization early Friday confirmed Badreddine’s death, but did not blame Israel for the airstrike that killed him, which reportedly took place near Damascus’s airport on May 10.
Several Lebanese television outlets, including the al-Mayadeen channel thought to be close to Hezbollah, said early Friday that Israel carried out the attack.
Badreddine, 55, is said to have inherited the leadership of Hezbollah’s military operations from former commander and cousin Imad Mughniyeh, who is believed to have been assassinated by Israel in 2008. Badreddine’s sister, Saada, was reportedly married to Mughniyeh.
— Hala Jaber (@HalaJaber) May 13, 2016
Badreddine has had a long career leading terror attacks and military operations for Hezbollah. He is being tried in absentia in The Hague for his alleged involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005.
His latest role in the organization was as its chief operational commander in Syria, where the Iran-backed group has sent thousands of fighters to prop up the regime of dictator Bashar Assad.
Hezbollah confirmed Badreddine’s killing, noting in a statement that he “took part in most of the operations of the Islamic resistance since 1982.”
According to the statement, “he said a few months ago, ‘I will not come back from Syria, unless a martyr or carrying the flag of victory.’ He is the top commander Mustafa Badreddine. And he came back today as a martyr.”
According to a July 2015 US Treasury statement announcing sanctions against him, Badreddine “is assessed to be responsible for Hizballah’s military operations in Syria since 2011, including the movement of Hizballah [Hezbollah] fighters from Lebanon to Syria, in support of the Syrian regime.
“Since September 2011, strategic coordination was handled between Assad and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah on a weekly basis, with Badr Al Din [Badreddine] accompanying Nasrallah during the meetings in Damascus. Since 2012, Badr Al Din coordinated Hizballah military activities in Syria. Badr Al Din led Hizballah ground offensives in the Syrian town of al-Qusayr in February 2013, and in May 2013 the Free Syrian Army (FSA) confirmed that Badr Al Din was leading Hizballah’s operations in al-Qusayr.”
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) May 13, 2016
There was no confirmation from Israel overnight of its alleged role in Badreddine’s killing.
Israel rarely acknowledges its role in such operations, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly confirmed in recent months that Israel was actively working to disrupt Hezbollah’s arms smuggling operations in Syria and build-up of capabilities on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
AFP contributed to this report