Samir Kantar, a Lebanese who was convicted of carrying out one of the most notorious attacks in Israeli history and spent nearly three decades in an Israeli prison, has been killed by an Israeli airstrike near the Syrian capital, the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah group said Sunday.
Kantar was imprisoned in 1979 in Israel and sentenced to three life terms after he and three other Lebanese infiltrated the Jewish State in 1979 and staged an attack in the northern coastal town of Nahariya, killing a policeman and then kidnapping a man, Danny Haran, and his 4-year-old daughter and killing them outside their home.
Born to a family of wealthy Lebanese Druze restaurateurs, Kuntar rejected his comfortable bourgeois upbringing for the thrills and thrusts of terrorism, which, in Lebanon of the late 1970s, were plentiful. He joined the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, trained as a guerrilla, and set out to take the lives of Israelis. His first attempt—a plot to hijack an Israeli bus—was foiled, and Kuntar spent 11 months in a Jordanian prison, released late in 1978. A few months later, on April 22, 1979, Kuntar, commanding a small unit of four armed men, piloted a small dinghy from Lebanon to the northern Israeli town of Naharia. Undetected by the Israeli Navy, the terrorists struck at midnight and wasted little time: spotting a police car, they opened fire and killed one officer, Eliyahu Shahar. Then, they proceeded into the town, forcing their way into the nearby home of the Haran family.
Danny Haran, 31, and his daughter Einat, 4, were taken hostage. Smadar, Danny’s wife, managed to grab her infant daughter Yael, 2, and hide in the apartment’s narrow attic. Terrified, and anxious to keep the child from crying, Smadar accidentally choked her baby to death. Kuntar and his men, meanwhile, took Danny and Einat to the beach, where they were met by Israeli soldiers and police officers. A short firefight ensued, but Kuntar had other targets in mind. He shot Danny in the back at close range, murdering him in front of his small daughter. Then, he took Einat and smashed her skull against a rock with the butt of his rifle.
Samir Kuntar was captured later that evening, and sentenced to life in an Israeli prison. There, he married an Israeli citizen, completed a bachelor’s degree and part of a master’s degree through the Tel Aviv-based Open University, and contemplated a run to the Lebanese parliament, cashing on his popularity in his native country. On July 16, 2008, Kuntar was released as part of a deal between Israel and the Hezbollah, and wasted no time espousing his favorite cause and calling for the kidnapping and murder of more Israelis.
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, 53, received a hero’s welcome upon his return to Lebanon. Assad awarded him the country’s highest medal during a trip he made to Damascus that year.
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 Assad’s forces.
In September, the U.S. State Department added Kantar to its Specially Designated Global Terrorist over his work with Hezbollah.
Kantar is the most high profile Hezbollah fighter to be killed since last year.
Syrian state news agency SANA said Kantar was killed in a “terrorist and hostile missile attack on a residential building.” SANA did not mention Israel in its report on the strike, which it said killed several people.
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 destroyed. Kantar’s brother, Bassam, confirmed his “martyrdom” in a Facebook posting Sunday. Al-Mayadeen said that Farhan al-Shaalan, a senior commander with the anti-Israeli “resistance” movement in the Golan Heights, was also killed in the air raid together with an aide to Kantar.
Israel’s defense minister has said that Russia and Israel have worked out an open communication system “to prevent misunderstandings.” That raises the question of whether the Russians would have been informed by Israel about the operation to assassinate Kantar.
Speaking to Israeli radio on Sunday, Smadar Haran called Kantar’s killing a ‘historic justice.’
The Israeli news website Ynet ran a headline Sunday saying: “The account is now closed.”
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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, honors Kantar in Tehran, Iran in 2009