Iran's Revolutionary Guards have confirmed that a general from the elite unit was among those killed in an apparent Israeli airstrike inside war-torn Syria on Sunday.
Six Hezbollah fighters were also killed in the attack, including Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of the paramilitary group's late leader Imad Mughniyeh.
A statement published on the Revolutionary Guards official website said that General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi was "martyred while defending the shrines and innocent people of Syria." It also said that the general had been on a special mission to Syria to provide "crucial advice" to forces supporting President Bashar Assad.
Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite Islamist militant group funded by Iran, are longtime loyalists to President Bashar Assad and formally entered Syria's conflict to fight alongside the Ba'ath government's forces in 2012.
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) have neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the hit. But eyewitnesses cited in local media reported seeing two helicopters circling before firing two missiles at a convoy of vehicles in the Quneitra province near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "Israel is adamant that it will have the right to defend itself against all those who wish to propagate terror and other attacks against its citizens, against its territory," though he made no specific reference to Lebanon or Syria.
Hezbollah has claimed that its fighters were targeted while "inspecting positions" near the Israeli-controlled border in the Golan. Al Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate fighting against Assad-aligned forces, is currently believed to control much of the area on the Syrian side.
Israel has conducted airstrikes inside Syria several times since the nearly four year long civil war began, but the attacks have been occurring more frequently in recent months.
Sunday's strike, which killed a number of high-ranking Hezbollah members, mark a distinct uptick in tensions not only in Israel's involvement in the war next door, but also with the paramilitary group, a longtime foe which recently boasted it had rockets capable of hitting any part of the neighboring Jewish state.
On Thursday, Hezbollah confirmed that it had detained one of its own operatives for spying for Israel, in a rare breach of security for a group which has always painted itself as impregnable.
Last week 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.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a statement on Monday that he "vigorously condemns" the airstrike and described it as Israeli "state terrorism."
Mughniyeh and one other fighter killed on Sunday were reportedly buried on Monday in a cemetery in in south Beirut — a Hezbollah stronghold.
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Main photo: The coffin of Jihad Mughniyeh was carried through the streets of a Beirut suburb by Hezbollah members. Image via Reuters.