BEIRUT: A Hezbollah commander was gunned down overnight Wednesday outside his home south of Beirut, in an assassination the Lebanese group said Israel would bear full responsibility for.
“Hajj Hassan Hawlo al-Lakkis, a leader of the Islamic Resistance [Hezbollah], was assassinated outside his house in St. Therese, Hadath, as he returned from work last night,” Hezbollah said in a statement.
A high-ranking security official told The Daily Star that at least one unidentified gunman, using a 9-mm silenced gun, shot and wounded Lakkis in the head and the neck five times outside him home in Hadath.
Lakkis was parked in his green Cherokee in Bloc A of residential complex 1660 in the St. Therese neighborhood at the time of the shooting, the official added.
In critical condition, the Hezbollah commander was rushed around midnight to the nearby Rasoul Aazam hospital where he died from his wounds at around 3 a.m., the official added.
Hezbollah blamed Israel for the assassination and said it “should bear full responsibility and all the consequences of this heinous crime and its repeated targeting of dear resistance leaders and cadres."
The statement said Israel had tried to assassinate Lakkis on several previous occasions.
"The Israeli enemy tried to kill Lakkis many times ... but its attempts failed until this foul assassination overnight," Hezbollah said.
Israel swiftly denied the accusations, saying Hezbollah’s accusation was a knee jerk reaction.
" Israel has nothing to do with this incident," said Yigal Palmor, Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman.
"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.
A hitherto unknown group, the “Free Sunni Brigades in Baalbek” claimed responsibility for “this heroic, jihadist operation.”
In a tweet, the group hailed the assassination of “a commander in the Satan party [Hezbollah] Hassan Lakkis.”
The security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a probe has been launched, adding that police are examining the serial number on the bullet casings to identify the manufacturer.
Hezbollah officials have been targets of assassination in the past. Top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated by a car bomb near the Syrian capital in February 2008. Hezbollah held Israel responsible for Mughniyeh’s killing.
Hezbollah described Lakkis as “a Mujahid, self-sacrificing and a leader who loved martyrdom.”
“He spent all his youth with the honorable resistance – since its early days until the final hour,” it said.
It said Lakkis’ son was killed during the August- July 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.
Lakkis’ funeral service will be held in Baalbek, east Lebanon, at 2 p.m.