Hezbollah holds massive Beirut funeral for Samir Kantar
BEIRUT – Lebanon's Hezbollah group said on Monday that Israel would be held accountable for killing prominent militant Samir Kantar in an air strike in Syria over the weekend, and accorded him a funeral of the kind reserved for its top commanders.
Thousands of people chanted "death to Israel" as Hezbollah fighters in military uniforms carried Kantar's coffin to a Shiite Muslim cemetery in its south Beirut stronghold where he was laid to rest.
"If the Israelis think by killing Samir Kantar 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 Shiite militant movement, said at the funeral.
Israel has welcomed news of Kantar's death without claiming responsibility for the raid that killed him on Saturday.
Shortly after Kantar's release from an Israeli prison in 2008, however, a top Israeli security official had warned he was a "target".
In Beirut's Ghobeiri neighbourhood, a bastion of Hezbollah support, uniformed militants manned checkpoints flying the movement's yellow-and-green flag ahead of the funeral.
Hezbollah helped negotiate Kantar's release in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers after he had spent 30 years in Israeli jails.
Kantar was still a teenager when he and three other members of the Palestine Liberation Front infiltrated the Israeli village of Nahariya by sea from Lebanon in 1979.
The militants shot dead Danny Haran, 28, and battered his four-year-old daughter Einat's skull with rifle butts.
Kantar was sentenced to five life terms plus 47 years for murdering the father and daughter and an Israeli policeman.
Shortly after his release, he joined Hezbollah.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said he became "head of the Syrian resistance for the liberation of the Golan," a group launched two years ago by Hezbollah in the region, most of which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war.
"In his seven years of freedom, Samir was involved in the resistance (against Israel) in Lebanon and when the first signs of resistance appeared on the occupied Golan front, he was one of the first to join up and Israel tried six times to kill him in Lebanon and Syria," his brother Bassem said in an article published in Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar.
"When Nasrallah announced we would soon see a Syrian resistance just as efficient as the Shiite resistance in southern Lebanon, Kantar was part of the equation," said Hezbollah expert and professor of sociology Waddah Sharara.
Originally from the Druze mountains southeast of Beirut, Kantar was among Lebanese youths who fought alongside Palestinian militants in the country's civil war in the 1970s.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, whose father Kamal was a figurehead for Lebanese leftist movements before his assassination in 1977, paid tribute to Kantar.
"Despite the differences in our political positions and on the Syria crisis, we condemn the death of the militant Samir... who dedicated his life to the struggle against Israeli occupation," he said.