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Samir Kantar, Longest-Serving Lebanese Prisoner in Israel, Killed in Syria: Reports

BEIRUT — Samir Kantar, a Lebanese man who was convicted of executing one of the most notorious attacks in Israeli history and spent nearly three decades in an Israeli prison, has been killed in an Israeli airstrike that targeted a residential building near the Syrian capital, the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah group said Sunday.

Hezbollah said Kantar, known in Lebanon as "The Dean of Lebanese Prisoners" for being the longest-held prisoner in Israel, was killed along with eight others in the strike in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana Saturday night.

Image: Samir Kuntar, a senior figure in Hezbollah, pictured in Beirut in 2008.
Samir Kuntar, a senior figure in Hezbollah, pictured in Beirut in 2008. JOSEPH BARRAK / AFP - Getty Images

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV said two Israeli warplanes that violated Syrian airspace fired four long-range missiles at the residential building in Jaramana Saturday night. It aired footage of what it said was the building, which appeared to be completely destroyed. Kantar's brother, Bassam, confirmed his "martyrdom" in a Facebook posting Sunday.

There was no immediate comment from Israel.

Kantar and four Hezbollah guerrillas were freed in 2008 in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah in 2006, whose capture sparked a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah. His release was highly controversial in Israel, where he is believed to be the perpetrator of one of the most grisly attacks in Israeli history.

Kantar was imprisoned in 1979 in Israel and sentenced to three life terms after he and three other Lebanese infiltrated Israel in 1979 and staged an attack in the northern coastal town of Nahariya, killing a policeman and then kidnapping a man and his 4-year-old daughter and killing them outside their home.

Israel says Kantar, who was 16 at the time, brutally beat the girl to death by bashing her head with a rifle. He denies this, saying the girl was killed in the crossfire. As the attack unfolded, the girl's mother hid inside a crawl space inside their home and accidentally smothered their crying 2-year-old daughter, fearing Kantar would find them.

Two of his co-conspirators were killed in a shootout with police. The third was also convicted and sent back to Lebanon in the 1980s as part of a prisoner swap.

Kantar, 53, received a hero's welcome upon his return to Lebanon in 2008. Assad awarded him the country's highest medal during a trip he made to Damascus that year.

Image: LEBANON-SYRIA-ISRAEL-STRIKE-HEZBOLLAH-FILES
A file picture taken on July 16, 2008, shows Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah (R) speaking next to Samir Kantar (L) at a stadium in Beirut's southern suburbs. MUSSA AL-HUSSEINI / AFP - Getty Images

Soon afterward, Kantar, a Druze, joined Hezbollah, his role growing quietly within the group's ranks particularly following the group's involvement in the civil war in Syria in support of President Bashar Assad's forces.

Kantar is the most high profile Hezbollah fighter to be killed since last year.

In January 2014, the Lebanese group accused Israel of carrying out an airstrike on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, which killed several Hezbollah members and a prominent Iranian general. Among the Hezbollah members was Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh, a top Hezbollah operative assassinated in 2008 in Damascus.

Hezbollah reported Kantar's killing but did not immediately vow revenge for his killing, as it did for Mughniyeh's killing.