WASHINGTON — Israel has denied claims by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah that the Jewish state was behind the killing of one of the group's top commanders, which came at a time of rising tensions in Lebanon related to Syria's civil war.
Hezbollah suffered a major blow on Wednesday when Hassan al-Laqis, part of the Lebanese group's secretive top leadership, was shot dead in Beirut.
Hezbollah blamed Israel for the assassination, but an Israeli government minister, Silvan Shalom, accused Salafis - members of a Sunni jihadist movement.
"The Hezbollah very well knows that Israel is not behind the assassination of this senior militant. They wanted to make it possible for them to explain to their own people that Israel is behind it. But they know very well that the Salafis did it, and their enemies are behind that attack,” said Shalom.
Hezbollah said that Laqis was killed as he returned to his home in Beirut early Wednesday. Security sources said he was shot while in his car.
Hezbollah said Israel had tried to kill him several times and must bear "full responsibility" for his death.
A little-known Sunni group calling itself the Ahrar al-Sunna Baalbek Brigade claimed responsibility in a Twitter post.
The claim, which could not be verified, denounced the arrests of Sunnis by Hezbollah in the Baalbek area of Lebanon.
Hezbollah's military has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as his forces battle rebels trying to oust him.
At the same time, tensions have risen in Lebanon between Shi'ite Hezbollah and Sunni groups that oppose Hezbollah's role in Syria's civil war. There have been deadly attacks in Beirut.
Al-Laqis was the most senior Hezbollah figure to be killed since Imad Mughniyeh in 2008. Hezbollah also blamed Israel for Mughniyeh's death.