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, was one of the highest ranking officials in the group, and believed by the US government to be responsible for Hezbollah’s military operations in Syria, where it is fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
On Friday, thousands of Hezbollah supporters carried the coffin of Badreddine, draped in a Hezbollah flag, during his funeral procession in a southern suburb of Beirut.
The group said it was working to “define the nature of the explosion and its cause, and whether it was the result of an air strike, or missile [attack] or artillery”.
Successor to Mughniyah
Mustafa Badreddine replaced his brother-in-law Imad Mughniyah after the Hezbollah commander was killed in a car bombing in Damascus in 2008.
Israel officially denied being behind Mughniyah’s killing, but Israeli media reported at the time that the Hezbollah commander had been a target of Israeli assassination attempts since the 1990s.
Hezbollah has paid a very steep price for its public and bloody foray into Syria’s civil war, where more than 1,000 fighters have been killed. Once lauded in Lebanon and the Arab world as a heroic resistance movement that stood up to Israel, its staunch support for Assad has been criticized at home, even among its Lebanese support base.
The Arab League designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization in March. A month earlier, Saudi Arabia cut $4 billion in aid to Lebanese security forces after Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil declined to join Arab and Islamic league resolutions critical of Iran and Hezbollah.