BEIRUT — Amid shouts of "death to Israel," thousands of Hezbollah supporters on Monday thronged the coffin of a high-profile Lebanese militant who the group says was killed by an Israeli airstrike near the Syrian capital.
Hezbollah said Samir Kantar, who spent 30 years in an Israeli prison after being convicted of the 1979 murders of an Israeli policeman along with a father and his 4-year-old daughter, was killed Saturday along with eight others in the airstrike on a residential building in Jaramana.
Hezbollah pledged to avenge his killing, sparking fears of escalation in a volatile region.
Supporters of the group walked behind the coffin, which was draped with a yellow Hezbollah flag, at the funeral Monday.
"Death to Israel," the men shouted, waving their fists in the air, as women threw rice and petals at the coffin.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah was due to speak later Monday.
"If the Israelis imagine that by targeting Samir Kantar they have closed an account, they are very wrong because they know and will know that they have opened accounts that are not closed with a treacherous missile," senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine said at the funeral.
Israeli has neither confirmed nor denied that it was behind Kantar's assassination.
In Lebanon, Kantar is known as "the dean of Lebanese prisoners," a reference to his long jail sentence in Israel.
In Israel, he was notorious for the kidnapping and grisly killing of a father and his 4-year-old daughter in the coastal town of Nahariya. Kantar was 16 at the time and a member of the Palestinian militant group the Palestine Liberation Front.
He also killed a policeman during the attack and is alleged to have beaten the four-year-old to death with a rifle butt — a charge he denies. He was imprisoned in 1979 in Israel and sentenced to three life terms, but was released as part of a prisoner swap with Hezbollah in 2008. While many in Israel were outraged at his release, in Lebanon he received a hero's welcome.
Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies. The two countries battled to a stalemate during a monthlong war in 2006 during which Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets into Israel and Israel's air force destroyed wide areas in Lebanon. Since then, Israeli military officials say Hezbollah has upgraded its capabilities and now possesses tens of thousands of rockets and missiles capable of striking anywhere in the country.
Kantar was to be buried in the Rawdat al-Sayida Zeinab cemetery that contains the graves of many Hezbollah fighters and commanders.
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.