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Senior Hezbollah Member Killed in Beirut Bombing

July 20, 2004|Azadeh Moaveni | Special to The Times

BEIRUT — A senior member of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah was killed here Monday morning in a car bombing, an attack the group and the Lebanese government blamed on Israel.

The slain militant, Ghaleb Awali, directed many operations during the two-decade Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, which ended in 2000, and worked with the militia to support the Palestinian uprising, Hezbollah officials said.

Awali, 40, died as explosives ripped through his Mercedes-Benz. Lebanese sources said the blast was detonated by remote control.

Hezbollah typically points a finger at Israel after such attacks. However, during Awali's crowded funeral service in the Shiite Muslim stronghold of Haret Hreik, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah widened the circle of blame.

He said the Lebanese government had been lax in bringing to justice militiamen who collaborated with the Israeli army during the occupation and suggested that these Lebanese agents were still working with Israel against Hezbollah.

In Jerusalem, an Israeli military spokeswoman denied that her nation had anything to do with Monday's blast.

A Sunni Muslim extremist group calling itself Jund al-Sham claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement faxed to a news agency in Beirut, Associated Press reported. But Nasrallah dismissed the claim, and a leader of the Sunni group told a local television station that the statement was fake.

Black-clad pallbearers wearing berets of green, the color associated with the Islamic prophet Muhammad, bore Awali's body to the funeral, where the Hezbollah leader praised him.

"The Zionist enemy is responsible," Nasrallah said. "We will cut off those Israeli hands and the hands of their agents."

Hundreds of mourners chanted, "Death to Israel" and "Death to America," and waved Hezbollah flags under the blazing sun. Awali's casket, draped in the mustard-yellow banner of the movement, was carried through the neighborhood in a procession that grew as it wound through the congested streets.

Monday's blast did not mark the first time a Hezbollah member had died in that manner in Beirut. Last August, a car bomb killed Ali Hussein Saleh, who worked for the Iranian Embassy here.

Like many senior figures in Hezbollah, whose identities are closely guarded, Awali was known by few Lebanese before his death. A husband and father of five, he was to be buried in his birthplace of Toulin in southern Lebanon.

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