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Leading Hezbollah figure killed in suspected Israeli strike near Damascus

Samir Qantar was originally convicted of murder in Israel in 1979
Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah speaking next to freed Lebanese prisoner Samir Kantar at a stadium in Beirut's southern suburbs (AFP)

A leading Hezbollah fighter has been killed in a rocket attack near the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Samir Qantar, described by the US state department as one of the group's "most visible and popular spokesmen" was killed in an attack the Lebanese group blamed on Israel.

Israeli Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Gallant told Israel Radio that he was “not confirming or denying anything” with regards to the killing though he said he welcomed Qantar's death.

"It is good that people like Samir Qantar will not be part of our world,” he said.

Qantar was originally convicted of killing three Israelis, including a four-year-old girl, in an attack on an apartment block in Nahariya in north Israel in 1979.

He was freed by Israel as part of a prisoner swap in 2008, three decades after the killings, and he became a high-profile figure in Hezbollah.

In September, the United States placed Qantar on its terror blacklist, saying he had "played an operational role, with the assistance of Iran and Syria, in building up Hezbollah's terrorist infrastructure in the Golan Heights".

He was killed on Saturday night "when the Zionist enemy planes bombed the building where he lived in Jaramana," southeast of Damascus, the Lebanese Shiite militant group said in a statement.

The Syrian state news agency SANA reported the "martyrdom of... Samir Qantar last night in a terrorist raid on a residential building" on the southern outskirts of Jaramana.

It released a picture showing Syrian pro-government forces standing guard next to a partially collapsed building where Qantar was said to have been killed.

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told military radio that Israel "has not claimed" the strike but "was happy to learn the news".

"He was an arch-terrorist who killed a young girl by fracturing her skull and had continued his terrorist activities after being freed," she said. "It's a good thing he met his maker."

The Israeli family of his victims also said "justice has been done".

Qantar's brother Bassem confirmed the militant's death on Twitter, saying: "We are proud to have joined the long list of families of martyrs."

Qantar, who had earned the title of longest-serving Arab prisoner in Israel, was still a teenager when he and three other members of the Palestine Liberation Front infiltrated the Israeli village of Nahariya by sea from Lebanon.

The militants shot dead Danny Haran, 28, and battered his daughter Einat's skull with rifle butts in an attack that shocked Israel to the core.

He was sentenced to five life terms plus 47 years for murdering Haran, Einat and an Israeli policeman.

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