Iranian claim
 
Iran, which backs Hezbollah, accused Israel of carrying out the attack against Moghaniyah.
 
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"This measure is the result and another prominent example of organised state terrorism by the Zionist regime [Israel]," Mohammad Ali Hosseini, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, told Iran IRNA state news agency.
 
But the United States welcomed Moghaniyah's killing, saying that he was responsible for many deaths.
 
"The world is a better place without this man in it. He was a cold-blooded killer, a mass murderer and a terrorist responsible for countless innocent lives lost," Sean McCormack, state department spokesman, said.
 
"One way or another he was brought to justice."
 
Influential figure
 
Imad Moghaniyah
The life of an
elusive figure
Al Jazeera's Rula Amin said that Moghaniyah he was considered by Hezbollah to be almost as important as Hassan Nasrallah, the organisation's secretary-general.
 
A statement carried on al-Manar, said: "With all pride we declare a great jihadist leader of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon joining the martyrs ... the brother commander Hajj Imad Moghaniyah became a martyr at the hands of the Zionist Israelis."

 

Amin said that the fact that he was killed in Damascus was a major security breach for the Syrian government and that his presence in Syria was significant since he had been underground for years.

 

There have been many attempts on Moghaniyah's life in the past 20 years, she reported.

 

His death comes amid a continuing political power vacuum in Lebanon, with opposing political factions failing to agree on a new president and the distribution of key cabinet portfolios.

 

Moghaniyah's funeral is set to coincide with the anniversary of the death of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister who was killed in a bomb blast in Beirut in 2005.

 

Al-Hariri's son, Saad al-Hariri, currently leads the ruling March 14 coalition bloc in Lebanon, which has faced growing opposition by Hezbollah and its political allies.

 

Israeli reaction

 

An Israeli cabinet minister hailed the killing, but said he did not know who was behind the attack.

Gideon Ezra, the Israeli environment minister, said: "I, of course, do not know who carried out the assassination of Imad, but he should be blessed."

The comment was the first by a member of the Israeli government of Ehud Olmert, the prime minister. 

Moghaniyah died in a bomb blast in
Damascus, the Syrian capital [AFP]
Later on Wednesday, Olmert's office denied allegations that it played any role in the killing.
   
"Israel rejects the attempts of terror elements to attribute to Israel any involvement in this incident," his office said in a statement.

Israeli news media predicted that Hezbollah would attempt to carry out revenge attacks against Israeli targets.  

Israeli radio and television interrupted their normal programming to announce the death of what one broadcaster called "the most dangerous of terrorists in the Middle East in the past 30 years".

  

"The score has been settled: Imad Moghaniyah was liquidated in  Damascus," read the headline on YNetNews, the website of Israel's biggest-circulation daily, Yediot Aharonot.

  

Privately run Channel Two television immediately called for security to be increased at Israeli diplomatic missions around the world.

 

Hamas condemnation

 

The Palestinian Hamas movement joined Hezbollah in accusing Israel of the assassination, saying it was a "new example of Zionist gangsterism".

 

The movement called for the Arab world to unite against Israel.

   

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, said: "We urge the Muslim and Arab nations to act decisively against the Zionist [Israeli] octopus that threatens the security of Arab and Muslim countries."

 

Abu Zuhri warned Israel of "unprecedented responses" if it carried out any assassinations in Gaza.

'Wanted man'

According to the US and the West, he was a "top terrorist" and was involved in the bombing of the US embassy in Beirut in April 1983.

 

Hezbollah officials and relatives of Moghaniyah
mourned his death in Beirut [AFP]
The US also claims he was involved in the killing of hundreds of US marines and French paratroopers in simultaneous truck bomb attacks in October 1983.

 

The blast late on Tuesday took place in the upmarket Kafar Soussa residential neighbourhood of Damascus.

 

Al Jazeera's Abdul Hamid Tawfiq, reporting from Damascus, said the blast targeted a silver-coloured vehicle in a car park.

 

Syrian security forces cordoned off the site and prevented any one from taking pictures, even by mobile phones, he said.

 

"When taking a close look at the car, we noticed that it was not burnt or blackened, but the driver's and passengers' seats were damaged," Tawfiq said, stressing that he believed that a bomb was planted under the driver's seat.

 

There have been a number of attacks in Damascus in recent years, including one on the US embassy in 2006 that left three gunmen and a Syrian guard dead.

 

Hezbollah is backed by both Syria and Iran.