Hizballah says jihadists, not Israel, killed commander in Syria
Lebanon's Hizballah has blamed Islamist extremists for killing the group's top military commander in Syria in an artillery attack.
The Shia militant group said in a statment on Saturday that Mustafa Badreddine was killed by insurgent shelling and vowed to continue its involvement in Syria's civil war.
"Our ongoing investigation has shown that the explosion, which targeted one of our bases near Damascus International Airport and which led to the martyrdom of commander Badreddine, was the result of artillery bombardment carried out by takfiri groups in the area," the statement read.
It added that the "takfiris" - a word used to describe Sunni extremists such as the Islamic state group [IS] - represented "the spearhead of the American-Zionist project in the region."
It did not name any particular group or say when the attack occurred, as of yet there has been no claim of responsibility for the attack.
Initial reports from Lebanese media pointed to a possible Israeli air raid that killed the military commander, despite denials from Israeli press.
Thousands of people attended Badreddine's funeral in Beirut on Friday, his coffin was carried among a mass of supporters in the city's southern suburbs.
The area on the southern edge of the Syrian capital, where the attack allegedly took place, is known to host positions of several militant groups including al-Qaida's branch in Syria, al-Nusra Front.
|The Syrian opposition has cast doubt on Hizballah's claims.|
The Syrian opposition, however, has cast doubt on Hizballah's claims.
"The assassination was carried out with a level of accuracy that no opposition faction is capable of. They have also not specified the time and date of the assassination, it is highly likely their accusations are untrue," the spokesman for the Damascus Military Council, Abu al-Hakam, told The New Arab.
Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that according to his network of activists in the area on the ground, there has been no shelling in the airport area since Wednesday.
"Hizballah must come forward with proof about the death of its commander," Abdurrahman said.
Badreddine was on a US terror sanctions blacklist, and was a key suspect in the 2005 assassination in Beirut of Lebanese ex-premier Rafik Hariri and one of the "most wanted" men by Israel.
His predecessor, cousin and brother-in-law Imad Mughniyeh, was killed in Damascus in a 2008 bombing that Hizballah blamed on its regional arch-foe Israel with whom it has fought several wars.
Badreddine's assassination follows the killing of Samir al-Kuntar, another Hizballah commander and former detainee in Israel five months ago. Israel was widely viewed as the culprit.