- Kuntar, convicted of murder, spent decades in Israel jail
- He was freed in 2008 in exchange for Israeli soldiers' bodies
An Israeli airstrike in Syria killed a Hezbollah militant who served nearly three decades in an Israeli prison for a 1979 attack that left four people dead, including a father and his two daughters, the Lebanese group said.
Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese Druze, was killed in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, Hezbollah said in a statement on Sunday. A number of Syrian nationals also died in the attack, it said. The Israeli military had no comment.
Air raid sirens sounded in Israel on Sunday evening, and the Israeli army said initial reports indicated three rockets fired from Lebanon had struck open areas in the country’s north. No injuries were reported. Mayadeen, a Beirut-based television news station close to Hezbollah, reported that three rockets had been fired into Israel.
The airstrike was the latest in a series of suspected Israeli attacks on Hezbollah gunmen and convoys in Syria, where the militant group is supporting President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war. Hezbollah’s ability to retaliate at this point would be more limited because of its involvement in Syria’s conflict.
Kuntar was convicted by an Israeli court of killing a 4-year-old girl and her father after infiltrating from Lebanon by sea in a four-man cell. Kuntar, who was a teenager at the time of the attack, repeatedly denied murdering the girl and said she died in crossfire with Israeli forces. The child’s mother, who took refuge in a crawlspace, accidentally smothered her other daughter trying to silence her cries, Israel has said.
“In a sense, historical justice has been done,” Smadar Haran, the wife and mother of the attack’s victims said in an Army Radio interview. She said in a conference call with journalists that she had heard about a year ago that Kuntar had become active in Hezbollah. “I started to worry that he might attack other families and kill other children,” she said.
Haran recounted how Kuntar killed her husband, then smashed her 4-year-old daughter’s skull. Details of the murder made his 2008 release in a prisoner swap controversial. He was freed as part of an exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah, whose capture sparked Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon.
“We have no idea who killed Samir Kuntar but whoever it was should be thanked by all of Israel,” said Avigdor Liberman, head of the opposition Yisrael Beitenu party and a member of parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee. “This is a despicable murderer, a murderer who never expressed remorse and the minute he was released in the deal with Hezbollah continued to act against Israel.”
Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser, said the absence of an official claim of responsibility might head off retaliation.
“I’m not sure it’s Israel because there are so many people in Syria who have their own reason to kill these guys who are helping Assad,” said Amidror. “At the end of the day, it’s good for Israel but I’m not sure Israel did it.”
(An earlier version of this story corrected the duration of Kuntar’s imprisonment in Israel.)