Hezbollah’s top military leader killed in huge blast in Syria

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  •  JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Word came today that the man believed to be the top military commander of Hezbollah was killed in Syria. The Iranian-backed group has fought against the U.S. and Israel since it was founded in the early 1980s. And it has joined forces with the Assad regime in the Syrian war.

    "NewsHour" special correspondent Jane Ferguson has our report.

  • JANE FERGUSON:

    People in this suburb of Beirut have been to many funerals since the beginning of the war in Syria, but none as big as this.

    Mustafa Badreddine was believed to be the main military commander of Hezbollah forces fighting in Syria. In life, he was a villain to America and its allies. In death, he is a hero to these people.

    In Hezbollah neighborhoods of Beirut, the funerals of war dead feel like celebrations. Women throw rice and rose petals on the coffin as it passes.

    "I know there are martyrs in Syria," this woman says, "but we like that and we are happy because we give martyrdom. If we didn't go to Syria, ISIS would come to here."

  • MAN:

    When the name of this dead man is in our minds, we will always remember that we have to fight. We have to get revenge from those who killed him.

  • JANE FERGUSON:

    Badreddine was believed to have been involved in the devastating attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, which killed 241 Americans. He was also indicted for the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a huge truck bomb in 2005.

    He was killed in Syria leading Hezbollah's military campaign, propping up the group's ally President Bashar al-Assad. Young men from here often go to fight in Syria for Hezbollah, many returning in coffins. It's a heavy price the group is paying for its involvement in the war.

    The death of this commander, however, is the biggest loss to the group since his predecessor was killed in 2008. Mustafa Badreddine, according to Hezbollah, had said just a few months ago that he would only return to Lebanon from Syria either victorious or as a martyr.

    Professor Daniel Byman of Georgetown University says he was a founding member of Hezbollah.

  • DANIEL BYMAN, Georgetown University:

    Badreddine's death is a big blow to Hezbollah. He's someone who was there at the founding of the movement. He's been with it in leadership positions, really the tip of the sphere almost everywhere they have been active, whether it's been in Kuwait, in Lebanon, now in Syria.

    And this is a tremendous blow. It has repeatedly lost senior leaders in its history, and it has repeatedly emerged strong and committed. So, it's not likely to change things in the country.

  • JANE FERGUSON:

    It's not clear who was responsible for his death. Badreddine would have been a target for both Israel and extremist groups fighting in Syria, like ISIS.

    Hezbollah leaders say Badreddine was killed in a huge explosion in Damascus and that they're investigating who was behind the attack. They expect to make an announcement in the coming days.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jane Ferguson in Beirut.

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