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Israel claims leading Hizballah official killed in Iran-linked feud

Hezbollah say that Badreddine was killed last year by rebel shelling near Damascus [AFP]

Date of publication: 21 March, 2017

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Hizballah has denied Israeli claims that its leader ordered the killing of military commander Mustafa Badreddine after he objected to the Lebanese Shia paramilitary group's huge losses in Syria.

Israel has claimed a high-ranking Hizballah official was killed in Syria by rivals within the Iran-backed Lebanese Shia paramilitary group.

The announcement marks the latest escalation in a growing feud between Israel and Hizballah over its activities in the Syrian Golan Heights bordering the Israeli state.

This has resulted in at least one deadly Israeli air strike in the area in the last week.

Speaking at an academic conference on Tuesday Israel's military chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said that the death of Mustafa Badreddine was a sign of "the depth of the internal crisis within Hizballah".

He added that the alleged killing further demonstrated "the extent of cruelty, complexity, and tension between Hizballah and its patron Iran".

Badreddine was considered Hizballah's top military official and one of five members of the group being tried in absentia in The Hague in connection with the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

He was killed in 2016 after arguing with Iranian military officials in Syria, Israeli intelligence claimed.

Badreddine is said to have been angered by the heavy losses sustained by the Lebanese Shia group in Syria, according to an Israeli military official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Hizballah is believed to have lost hundreds - possibly thousands - of fighters in Syria, where militants are supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Badreddine's killing, according to Israel, was ordered by Hizballah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

Hizballah has since denied the claims in comment to Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper.

In May 2016, Hizballah said that Badreddine had been killed by "takfiri" groups (a term used by the group to describe all combatant forces fighting against the Assad regime) in shelling close to Damascus' International Airport.

Thousands consequently gathered in funeral processions held in the group's Dahieh stronghold in Beirut.

On Tuesday an Israeli drone was downed over Syria's Golan Heights, only a matter of days after a member of a Hezbollah-affiliated group was killed in a reported drone attack in the flashpoint border area on Sunday.

This follows on from an Israeli airstrike targeting an alleged Hizballah weapons convoy near Palmyra. That attack also led the Syrian regime to fire retaliatory anti-aircraft missile at an Israeli aircraft.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman has threatened to destroy Syrian air defence systems "without the slightest hesitation" if Israel's aircraft were targeted again.

(Agencies contributed to this report)

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