World News

Israel welcomes militant's death in Damascus but doesn't take credit

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli cabinet minister welcomed on Sunday the killing of Lebanese militant leader Samir Qantar in an overnight strike in Syria but stopped short of confirming allegations Israel was responsible.

Jailed in Israel for his part in a 1979 raid that killed four people, Qantar went free in 2008 under a prisoner swap with the Iranian-backed Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, which he is then believed to have joined. Hezbollah is active in Syria.

Qantar was killed when a number of rockets hit a building in the Damascus district of Jaramana in the early hours on Sunday, Syrian government loyalists said on social media. Government loyalists and Hezbollah said the blasts were an Israeli strike.

“It is good that people like Samir Qantar will not be part of our world,” Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Gallant told Israel Radio.

Asked if Israel carried out the strike, Gallant said: “I am not confirming or denying anything to do with this matter.” Other Israeli officials, including military spokesmen, declined comment.

While formally staying out of Syria’s civil war, Israel has occasionally bombed targets there in what security sources said was an effort to prevent Hezbollah obtaining advanced arms from Damascus or attacking Israelis from within Syrian territory.

Jacky Hugi, Arab affairs editor for Israel’s Army Radio, said in a commentary that if Israel did deliberately kill Qantar, it would have been to foil a suspected threat that he posed rather than as “payback” for the 1979 cross-border raid.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Michael Perry