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Islamic Jihad accuses Israel of assassinating leader in Syria

The Gaza-based group has accused Israel of killing one of its commanders in Syria after the man was shot dead in front of his home near the capital Damascus.
LOUAI BESHARA/AFP via Getty Images

A Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander based in Syria was shot dead on Sunday in an attack the group blamed on Israel. The Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihad’s military wing, said in a statement that Ali Ramzi al-Aswad was assassinated by “agents of the Zionist entity” in the Damascus countryside.

The Gaza-based group vowed to continue fighting Israel for its crimes against the Palestinian people. “The Quds Brigades will carry on its work, struggle and fight in all arenas to defend the holy land of Palestine and the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque,” the group added in its statement.

On Monday, the group posted photos of Aswad’s funeral procession on its website and said that a large crowd of Syrians and Palestinians had accompanied his body from a mosque in Damascus to his final resting place, which was not identified.

According to the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper, two unidentified men shot more than 30 rounds from machine guns at Aswad as he was getting in his car in front of his home in the Qudsaya suburb of Damascus. He was pronounced dead at the scene. 

Al-Akhbar also received information from the initial investigation into the alleged assassination, according to which the rounds that hit Aswad were designed to penetrate armored targets. This means that the attackers may have been prepared for Aswad to either be wearing a bulletproof vest or for his car to be armored. According to the Lebanese paper, Israeli security agents had been monitoring Aswad’s movements and plotting his assassination.

Aswad was from a Palestinian family that was displaced from Haifa in 1948 and settled in Syria. He joined the Quds Force in 2005, when he was only 14. He was known as a prominent fighter in Syria. Aswad had recently settled in Qudsaya after fleeing the fighting in the Yarmouk refugee camp during the Syrian civil war.

Israel has not commented on the allegations. But in an apparent reference to Aswad’s killing, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday that Israel will get terrorists wherever they are found. “Our forces are working around the clock to deal with the terrorists and thwart terror infrastructure. Dozens of terrorists were killed in the last month. Many others were arrested. I repeat: All those who try to harm the citizens of Israel, they will pay with their lives,” Netanyahu said.

In November 2019, suspected Israeli airstrikes hit the home of Akram al-Ajouri, a member of the Islamic Jihad’s leadership in Damascus. Ajouri survived the attack but his son was killed.

The Israeli military has carried out hundreds of precision strikes against Syrian government and Iran-linked targets in Syria throughout the war, but rarely acknowledges such operations. 

Last week, two Iran-allied fighters were killed in airstrikes attributed to Israel that hit a weapons depot belonging to Iranian forces on the border between the provinces of Tartus and Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. 

In late February, at least five people were killed in Israeli airstrikes that targeted a building in central Damascus. Reuters reported that the strikes hit a logistics center run by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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