JERUSALEM: Israel on Wednesday denied allegations by Hezbollah that it was behind the assassination of one of the Lebanese Shiite movement's top commanders near Beirut.
"This is yet another Pavlovian response from Hezbollah, which makes automatic accusations (against Israel) before even thinking about what's actually happened," Israel's foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
" Israel has nothing to do with this," he told AFP.
The slain leader, Hassan Hawlo al-Lakiss, was the most senior Hezbollah figure to be assassinated since Imad Mughniyeh was killed in a Damascus bombing in 2008, which the group also blamed on Israel.
Both men were part of Hezbollah's secretive top leadership.
Hezbollah early Wednesday announced that Lakiss had been assassinated during the night at his house in the Hadath region, east of Beirut.
"Direct accusation is aimed of course against the Israeli enemy which had tried to eliminate our martyred brother again and again and in several places but had failed, until yesterday evening," a Hezbollah statement said.
Israel's Energy Minister Silvan Shalom reiterated Palmor's denial, telling public radio, " Israel has nothing to do with this.
"Even if we're happy about it, it's the Salafists who have carried it out," Shalom said, in reference to extremist Sunni Muslim groups who oppose the Shiite, Iran-backed Hezbollah.
"It's a harsh blow for Hezbollah, which has tried to present the assassination (as Israeli) in order to distract from internal wrangling and divisions in Lebanon brought on by the Syrian" civil war, Shalom said.
Hezbollah's decision to intervene in Syria has fuelled tensions inside Lebanon, which is bitterly divided over the war.
Hezbollah emerged during Lebanon's civil war in the 1980s with the aim of driving Israeli forces out of the country and battled the Jewish state to a bloody stalemate in 2006.
Hezbollah said Lakiss's son was killed in the 2006 war, which claimed the lives of some 1,200 Lebanese, mainly civilians, and more than 150 Israelis, mainly soldiers.