BEIRUT - Lebanon’s Hezbollah group said on Monday that Israel would be held accountable for killing prominent militant Samir Kuntar in an air strike in Syria, and accorded him an elaborate funeral of the kind reserved for its top commanders.
Thousands of people chanted “death to Israel” as Hezbollah fighters in military uniforms carried Kuntar’s coffin to a Shi’ite Muslim cemetery in its south Beirut stronghold where he was laid to rest.
“If the Israelis think by killing Samir Kuntar 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.
Kuntar (a/k/a 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. Kuntar 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.
Kuntar, 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 Kuntar’s coffin stopped by the grave of Moughniyah, where they took the group’s official oath and pledged loyalty to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.