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Israel welcomes Hezbollah's Kuntar death in Damascus but doesn't take credit

Reuters , Sunday 20 Dec 2015
Samir Kantar
(FILES) - A file picture taken on July 16, 2008, shows Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah (R) speaking next to freed Lebanese prisoner Samir Kantar (L) at a stadium in Beirut's southern suburbs. ( AFP PHOTO)
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An Israeli cabinet minister welcomed on Sunday the killing of Lebanese militant leader Samir Kuntar in an overnight strike in Syria but stopped short of confirming allegations Israel was responsible.

Jailed in Israel for his part in a 1979 raid that killed four people, Kuntar went free in 2008 under a prisoner swap with the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which he is then believed to have joined. Hezbollah is active in Syria.

Kuntar was killed when a number of rockets hit a building in the Damascus district of Jaramana in the early hours on Sunday, Syrian government loyalists said on social media. Government loyalists and Hezbollah said the blasts were an Israeli strike.

"It is good that people like Samir Kuntar will not be part of our world," Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Gallant told Israel Radio.

Asked if Israel carried out the strike, Gallant said: "I am not confirming or denying anything to do with this matter." Other Israeli officials, including military spokesmen, declined comment.

While formally staying out of Syria's civil war, Israel has occasionally bombed targets there in what security sources said was an effort to prevent Hezbollah obtaining advanced arms from Damascus or attacking Israelis from within Syrian territory.

Jacky Hugi, Arab affairs editor for Israel's Army Radio, said in a commentary that if Israel did deliberately kill Kuntar, it would have been to foil a suspected threat that he posed rather than as "payback" for the 1979 cross-border raid. 

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