BEIRUT – The Lebanese resistance movement Hizbullah on Wednesday, February 13, accused Israel of assassinating its military commander Imad Mughnieh in a blast in the Syrian capital Damascus a day earlier.
"After a life full of jihad, sacrifices and accomplishments…Haj Imad Mughnieh died a martyr at the hands of the Israeli Zionists," Hizbullah said in a statement cited by Reuters.
"He has been a target of the Zionists for 20 years."
Mughnieh died in car bombing in the Syrian capital’s newly completed residential neighborhood of Kfar Suseh late on Tuesday, February 12.
Hizbullah’s Al-Manar TV interrupted normal programming early Wednesday to announce that Mughnieh was the target of the Damascus bombing.
Witnesses said the vehicle was blown up in a car park at around 11 pm (2100 GMT).
After the blast, Syrian police prevented journalists from getting near enough to the scene to see if there had been any casualties.
But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office was quick to deny any link to the assassination.
Dany Yatom, a former Mossad chief, described the assassination as "a success for the intelligence community."
Israel radio and television interrupted normal programming to announce his death.
Mughnieh’s brother was killed in a similar attack in Beirut in 1994, blamed on Israel’s Mossad. Reports at the time suggested he was the real target.
Mughnieh has been on Washington’s terror list for years with a $25 million bounty on his head for his suspected role in attacks against American and Israeli targets.
Mughnieh, in his late 40s, was immediately praised as a top Hizbullah military commander previously known to the media by his nickname Abu Radwan.
Lebanon’s top Shiite scholar Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah issued a statement saying that "the resistance has lost one of its pillars".
Mughnieh was one of the main commanders who led operations against Israeli occupations forces in Lebanon.
Reports also indicated that he had played a major role in confronting the Israeli onslaught on Lebanon in summer 2006.
"Mughnieh was one of Hizbullah’s senior leaders but not the most senior one," said Ghassan bin Jedo, the head of Aljazeera news channel office in Lebanon.
"He may participated in planning many of the resistance operations and actively contributed to the 2006 war, but was not the commander of that war," he explained.
Israel says Mughnieh masterminded the capture of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border in July 2006.
Although experts recognize that Mughnieh’s assassination is a strong blow to Hizbullah, they believe the resistance group will ride the loss.
"Hizbullah is a strong institution that does not survive on individuals no matter how seniors or influential they might be within its structure," Anis Al-Nakash, a Lebanese expert in Islamic groups affairs, told Al-Jazeera.
"Mughnieh was one of the top Lebanese resistance leaders killed since 1982, but Hizbullah is credited for replacing one great leader with another."
(IslamOnline and agencies)