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Hezbollah honcho killed in Lebanon

This undated photo released by the Hezbollah Media Relation Office shows Hassan al-Laqis, described by Hezbollah as one of the founding members of the group suggesting he was a high-level commander close to the party's leadership. Al-Laqis was gunned down Wednesday outside his home in southern Beirut, security officials said. Hezbollah blamed Israel for the killing, something an official there quickly denied. AP photo

This undated photo released by the Hezbollah Media Relation Office shows Hassan al-Laqis, described by Hezbollah as one of the founding members of the group suggesting he was a high-level commander close to the party's leadership. Al-Laqis was gunned down Wednesday outside his home in southern Beirut, security officials said. Hezbollah blamed Israel for the killing, something an official there quickly denied. AP photo

BAALBAK, Lebanon — A senior member of Hezbollah blamed groups sympathetic to Syria’s rebels for the assassination early Wednesday of a top Hezbollah military commander as the commander was returning home from work.

Hassan al-Laqis was shot repeatedly in the head and neck with small-caliber pistols, apparently equipped with silencers, in a southern Beirut neighborhood, according to Lebanese security officials and Hezbollah members. The Lebanon-based militant group initially accused Israel in the killing — a charge that country denied — but speaking at al-Laqis’ funeral in the afternoon, Sheikh Moham-med Yazbek, a senior Hezbollah official, linked the assassination to recent attacks that Hezbollah and Lebanese government officials have pinned on Syrian rebels and their Sunni Muslim supporters.

“The people responsible for the martyr’s assassination are the same ones behind the explosions in Dahiyeh’s al-Roueiss and the foiled car-bomb attack in Dahiyeh’s Maamoura,” Yazbek said, referring to bombings in southern Beirut’s Shiite Muslim suburb. He then accused the Lebanese government of failing to protect the Shiite community and said that failure justified Hezbollah’s recent security measures.

“The security events in Lebanon are the state’s responsibility, but when the state abandons its responsibility, it is up to us to protect our people and families,” he said.

What steps Hezbollah might take in response to the killing weren’t immediately clear.

The assassination was the latest in spiraling violence in Lebanon tied to the civil war in Syria, where Hezbollah fighters have assumed a key supporting role in backing the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. A previously unknown group, the Brigades of the Free Sunnis of Baalbak, took responsibility for the killing, describing al-Laqis as “the architect of the massacre of Qusayr,” a reference to last spring’s bitter fight for control of a Syrian city on the border with Lebanon that had been a key conduit for rebels smuggling people and weapons into Syria before pro-Assad forces retook it. Hezbollah played a crucial role in the fight to retake the city, which had been in rebel hands for nearly two years.

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