The hit on terrorist Hassan al-Laqis marks biggest blow to Shiite terror group Hezbollah, since the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh.
Official Hezbollah statement: ‘Israel automatically held responsible for the crime.’
The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah said Wednesday that one of its commanders has been “assassinated” outside of his home in southern Beirut. It blamed Israel for his killing, something an official there quickly denied.
A statement issued by the group said Hassan al-Laqis was killed as he returned home from work around midnight. It did not say how he died.
Laqis was an elite member of Hezbollah’s military wing and for many years served as Hezbollah’s technology and arms chief. He also maintained extensive contact with Iranian and Syrian intelligence. He was known to Western intelligence since the 1980s and was considered very knowledgeable of the secrets of Hezbollah’s operations.
Lebanese security officials said assailants opened fire on al-Laqis with an assault rifle while he was in his car. He was in the parking lot of the residential building where he lived, in the Hadath neighborhood, some two miles (three kilometers) southwest of Beirut, they said.
He was rushed to a nearby hospital but died early Wednesday from his wounds, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The Lebanese state news agency later published a photograph of al-Laqis, a man who appeared to be in his mid-40s, with neatly cut black hair and a graying close-cropped beard, wearing beige-and-khaki military clothing.
The statement accused Israel of being responsible for the killing. It said Israel tried to kill him several times, but had failed.
“The Israeli enemy is naturally directly to blame,” the statement said. “This enemy must shoulder complete responsibility and repercussions for this ugly crime and its repeated targeting of leaders and cadres of the resistance.”
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor denied Israeli involvement.
“Israel has nothing to do with this incident,” Palmor said. “These automatic accusations are an innate reflex with Hezbollah. They don’t need evidence, they don’t need facts, they just blame anything on Israel.”
Laqis’ assassination will strip Hezbollah of a source that had gathered tremendous amounts of knowledge of military operations and it will be very difficult to replace him.
According to reports in Lebanese press, Israel attempted to assassinate him during the 2006 Lebanon war but failed to do so. According to foreign reports, Israel launched at least six strikes on weapons convoys in Syria in order to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons from Syria to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has fought several wars against Israel. Al-Laqis’ son died fighting Israel in the monthlong 2006 war.
This is the biggest blow to Hezbollah since the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, a top Hezbollah military commander, was killed by a bomb that ripped through his car in Damascus.
In 1992, Israeli helicopter gunships ambushed the motorcade of Nasrallah’s predecessor, Sheik Abbas Musawi, killing him, his wife, 5-year-old son and four bodyguards. Eight years earlier, Hezbollah leader Sheik Ragheb Harb was gunned down in south Lebanon.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has rarely appeared in public since the 2006 war. In a very rare move, he traveled to neighboring Syria last week to meet the Syrian and Iranian presidents.
Hezbollah also has been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in that country’s civil war, sparking attacks across neighboring Lebanon.
View original HAARETZ publication at: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.561638