A top Hezbollah commander and founding member of the militant political group was slain by a group of gunmen outside his home south of Beirut early Wednesday.
Hassan al-Laqis, Hezbollah's top procurement officer, was struck by five bullets in the head and neck, a Lebanese officials told the Associated Press. The AP classified the attack as a huge blow to the militant group operating in multiple conflict zones, including neighboring Syria. Israeli news service Haaretz says this is the most devastating attack on Hezbollah leadership since leader Imad Mughniyeh was killed by a 2008 bomb blast in Damascus.
No known organization claimed responsibility for the strike as of late Wednesday morning, though Hezbollah was quick to point a finger at Israel, airing its usual suspicions for such attacks. Israel has denied any connection to the attack.
A funeral was held hours after the attack in his hometown of Baalbek.
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Hezbollah, a Shia Muslim organization, has endured a string of retaliatory strikes in recent years from rebel forces in Syria and their allies, which are predominantly Sunni. Thousands of Hezbollah fighters are reportedly operating in Syria alongside elite Iranian forces. They support of the regime of President Bashar Assad, an ethnic Alawite with close ties to the minority Shia community in Syria.
Al-Laqis' death came hours after the conclusion of a three-hour interview Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah conducted with a local news organization, the AP reports. He hinted at a secret alliance between the Israelis and Saudi Arabia, a predominantly Sunni nation, and blamed the Saudis for the Nov. 19 bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut that killed dozens.
Hezbollah confirmed the attack in a statement on Wednesday, reports Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star. An official told the Star a gunman likely used a 9 millimeter gun with a silencer to kill al-Laqis. He died at roughly 3 a.m. local time at a nearby hospital.
The Hezbollah statement said Israel "should bear full responsibility and all the consequences of this heinous crime and its repeated targeting of dear resistance leaders and cadres."
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel had nothing to do with the incident.
"These automatic accusations are an innate reflex with Hezbollah. They don't need evidence, they don't need facts, they just blame anything on Israel," he said, according to the Star.
Lebanese officials are investigating a claim by a yet-unknown group, the "Free Sunni Brigades in Baalbek," which said in a tweet that they were responsible for al- Laqis' death.