BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s Hezbollah group on Monday said it would retaliate for the killing of prominent militant Samir Qantar in an Israeli air strike in Syria, after giving him an elaborate funeral in Beirut of the kind reserved for its top commanders.
Thousands of people chanted “death to Israel” as Hezbollah fighters in military uniforms carried Qantar’s coffin, which was wrapped by the group’s yellow flag, to a Shi’ite Muslim cemetery in its south Beirut stronghold where he was laid to rest.
“We have no doubt or question that Israel is the one which assassinated Samir Qantar, its planes fired precision missiles on a residential apartment (he was in),” Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech aired on the group’s al-Manar television channel.
“Samir is one of us, a commander of our resistance and it is our right to retaliate for his assassination in the place, time and way we see appropriate,” Nasrallah said. “We will exercise this right, God willing. Everyone should bear this mind.”
A number of Syrians were also killed in the attack, he said.
Qantar was jailed in Israel for his part in a 1979 raid in Israel that killed four people. He was a member of a Palestinian militant group then. Qantar was repatriated to Lebanon in 2008 in a prisoner swap with Hezbollah, which he then joined.
Israel welcomed his death, saying he had been preparing attacks on it from Syrian soil, but stopped short of confirming responsibility for the air strike on Saturday that killed him.
“We, in a firm and definite way, hold the Zionist enemy responsible for assassinating him,” Nasrallah said.
Qantar, born in 1962, kept a low public profile after Israel freed him. Hezbollah did not say what role he played in Syria’s ongoing conflict, in which Hezbollah is fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad. But Syrian state media said he was involved in a major offensive earlier this year in Quneitra, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
In January, an Israeli air strike in Syria killed six members of Hezbollah, including a commander and the son of the its late military chief Imad Moughniyah near the Golan Heights.
In a symbolic gesture at Monday’s funeral, Hezbollah fighters carrying Qantar’s coffin stopped by the grave of Moughniyah, where they took the group’s official oath and pledged loyalty to Nasrallah.
“If the Israelis think by killing Samir Qantar they have closed an account then they are very mistaken because they know and will come to know that they have instead opened several more,” Hashem Safeieddine, a senior official in the powerful Shi’ite militant movement, said at the funeral.
Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Dominic Evans