An Israeli helicopter strike in Syria killed five members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement including the son of group’s late military leader Imad Moughniyah, sources close to Hezbollah said, in an attack that has the potential to trigger reprisals.
The Daily Star reports that an Iranian field commander was also killed in the strike.
Israel’s military declined to comment, but Israel’s Ynet News quoted an Israeli military source as saying the attack had targeted “terrorists who intended to attack Israel.”
An Israeli security source confirmed to Reuters on Sunday that it “was an Israeli helicopter that carried out the attack.”
The missile strike hit Jihad Moughniyah’s convoy in the Syrian province of Quneitra, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the Lebanese sources said.
Israeli media said the men who were killed had been plotting to attack or capture towns in northern Israel. Israel fought an inconclusive war with Hezbollah in 2006.
The strike comes three days after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said he considered frequent Israeli strikes in Syria to be a major aggression, and that Syria and its allies had the right to respond. Hezbollah has been fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria’s nearly four-year-old civil war.
Senior Israeli military official says if Hezbollah responds to todays strikes with rockets, there will be a “very heavy response.”
— Israel Breaking (@IsraelBreaking) January 18, 2015
Hezbollah (and Iran) need to decide if Israeli strike enough of a reason to plunge all of Lebanon into a severely crippling war.
— Daniel Nisman (@DannyNis) January 18, 2015
The Hezbollah-run Al-Manar news channel did not mention Moughniyah but said Hezbollah had confirmed that several of its fighters were killed when they were checking an area in Quneitra.
Al-Manar said Hezbollah would announce the names of the dead later on Sunday.
Quneitra has seen heavy fighting between forces loyal to Assad and rebels, including fighters linked to al-Qaida.
“An Israeli helicopter fired two missiles on Amal Farms in Quneitra,” the Lebanese news channel said earlier, adding that two reconnaissance planes had also been seen flying over the area.
Israel has struck Syria several times since the start of the war, mostly destroying weaponry such as missiles that Israeli officials said were destined for Hezbollah, Israel’s longtime foe in neighbouring Lebanon.
Syria said last month that Israeli jets had bombed areas near Damascus International Airport and in the town of Dimas, near the border with Lebanon.
Imad Moughniyah, who was on the United States’ most-wanted list for attacks on Israeli and Western targets, was assassinated in Damascus in 2008.
(Reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut and Dan Williams and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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