‘Israel not to blame for Hezbollah chief’s death’

Lebanese al-Qaeda arm says commander Hassan al-Laqis died in the twin bombing outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut

Lebanese mourners carry the coffin of Hassan al-Laqis, a senior commander of the Lebanese group Hezbollah, on Wednesday, December 4, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla)December 28, 2013

Senior Hezbollah commander Hassan al-Laqis, who was said to have been shot in Beirut earlier this month, was not assassinated by Israel, a Lebanese jihadi group linked to al-Qaeda said Saturday.

The group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, said in a video posted on its website that Laqis was not killed “by the Jews,” but rather died in the twin bombing outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut in October.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying it was payback for the military support that Iran and Hezbollah provide against the mainly Sunni rebels fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah blamed Saudi Arabia for the double suicide bombing, which took place on November 19.

He also said he was confident, based on evidence Hezbollah has in its possession, that Israel was behind Laqis’s assassination, which previous reports said occurred in the garage of the commander’s apartment building on December 4.

Israel denied involvement but Nasrallah, whose fighters are assisting Assad’s forces in the civil war in Syria and has no shortage of enemies, insisted that Israel was to blame.

He said the killers will be hunted down and “they will be killed sooner or later.”

Nasrallah described Laqis as a “brother and friend since we were teenagers.”

Following Laqis’s death, Israeli officials told Time Magazine that while the assassination dealt a severe blow to Hezbollah, it was not orchestrated by the Jewish state.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officials assessed that Laqis’s death was a result of spillover from the conflict in Syria, as Hezbollah’s Shi’ite fighters have increasingly been involved in aiding Syria President Bashar Assad’s forces in combating the country’s predominantly Sunni rebels — along with two al-Qaeda linked rebel groups.

The officials said the targeting of Laqis served as a warning message to Nasrallah, who had ordered the mobilization of the terror group’s fighters into Syria.

The bitter civil conflict in Syria has been spilling over into Lebanon in recent months, with the Friday blast that killed former minister Mohammad Chatah, along with six others, serving as a powerful reminder of the tensions that still exist between Lebanon’s rival political factions as it continues to recover from its own civil war.