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Israeli Airstrike in Syria Kills Son of Late Hezbollah Commander

An Israeli airstrike has killed six members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, including the son of the paramilitary group’s late leader Imad Mughniyeh.
Photo by Hussein Malla/AP

An Israeli airstrike in Syria killed six members of Lebanon's Hezbollah Sunday. Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of the paramilitary group's late leader Imad Mughniyeh, is among the dead, Hezbollah confirmed in a statement.

Before his death in Syria in 2008, Imad Mughniyeh, who went by the nom de guerre al-Hajj Radwan, was on a US most wanted list with a $5 million bounty on his head for his alleged role in a number of terror attacks, including bomb attacks on US and Israeli embassies, and the kidnapping and killing of dozens of foreigners.

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Following in his father's footsteps, Jihad Mughniyeh was reportedly appointed commander of Hezbollah's Golan division in October.

On Sunday, the Israeli helicopter that reportedly killed Mughniyeh fired two missiles at a convoy of Hezbollah fighters moving in Quneitra near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The province lies in what is technically a demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria. The two countries are still officially at war with each other, but have not been involved in active conflict for years.

'Israel's Killer Robots.' Watch the VICE News documentary here.

Hezbollah, a longtime foe of Israel, has been fighting alongside Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria since the early stages of the country's civil war.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have not officially commented on the airstrike, but local media has quoted an Israeli military source as saying the attack targeted "terrorists who intended to attack Israel."

MTV Lebanon — an independent media organization — said the missiles targeted a rocket-launching cell that was on a mission to fire at Israel.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar news channel reported that a group of fighters were killed in the area of Quneitra. The network has not yet released the names of the dead.

In an interview with Israel's Channel 2, Israeli commander Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant hinted that strike was politically expedient for the government in the build-up to the country's March 17 elections.

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Galant — who is running for a spot in Israel's parliament — referenced the IDF's assassination of Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari in November 2012, just before an election. "Based on past incidents, one can learn that sometimes the timing isn't entirely unconnected to the election," he said.

Israel has conducted airstrikes inside Syria several times, but the attacks have been occurring more frequently in recent months.

In early December, an unmanned Israeli Skylark 1 drone was apparently downed on a reconnaissance mission over the Golan province. Earlier that same month, local media in Syria reported that the IDF hit two Iranian weapons caches near the Damascus airport that were destined for Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

In June, Israel returned fire on a Syrian army position near the Golan after a 15-year-old Israeli citizen was killed by stray mortar fire as he carried out maintenance work with his father on a border fence.

New evidence suggests Israel is helping Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights. Read more here.

The complex allegiances of scores of militia groups fighting inside Syria have placed Israel in a catch-22 scenario. By attacking Hezbollah targets in the Golan Heights, Israel is essentially assisting Jabhat al-Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate that, according to Israeli security sources, controls much of the border.

In December, VICE News revealed that Israel has been providing medical assistance to injured Syrian rebels for at least a year, sometimes treating them in Israeli hospitals.

Although Israel has branded the aid as "humanitarian," the information provided to VICE News showed that around 90 percent of those treated were male, including many young men that identified themselves as fighters who expressed sympathy for Jabhat al-Nusra.

Sunday's strike comes just days after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said he considered the increasingly frequent Israeli strikes in Syria a "major aggression," and that Syria and its allies have the right to respond. The latest airstrike could escalate the tensions even further.

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Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem