The Iranian official who was assassinated Wednesday night while returning from Damascus to Beirut likely had a dual identity, according to Lebanese and Western sources.
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The man has been identified by some as a senior member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and by others as the head of an Iranian agency that led reconstruction efforts in Lebanon. Whatever the case, as Lebanese and Western sources note, Iranian officials with ties to the security services or the military often operate in Lebanon under the guise of civilian jobs.
The man's true identity has been shrouded in confusion following initial reports of his death. In Iran, officials reported an attempt on the life of Gen. Hassan Shateri, a senior member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, while in Beirut, the Iranian embassy reported the death of the chief of the Iranian Council for Reconstruction in Lebanon, Houssam Khosh Nweis.
Reports by the Iranian news agency Fars indicate that Gen. Shateri was murdered by agents of the "Zionist entity" while returning from Damascus to Beirut on Wednesday night. A spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards, Ramadan Sharif, announced in Tehran that "Shateri was murdered by mercenaries and supporters of the Zionist entity on the road between Damascus and Beirut."
But meanwhile on Wednesday night, the Iranian embassy in Beirut announced that Khosh Nweis, who reportedly headed the Iranian Council for Reconstruction in Lebanon, was murdered by armed militias on his way back from Damascus to Beirut. Photographs published online appear to indicate that the man who died was Khosh Nweis.
Officials in both countries agree that the official – whatever his identity and title – was involved in reconstruction in Lebanon following the Second Lebanon War.
According to the embassy, the man was active in the southern suburb of Beirut known as Dahiyeh, and in villages in South Lebanon. He was reportedly involved in reconstruction projects including public buildings such as schools, hospitals and places of worship.
No details of the assassination have been released, including where it took place.
The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported on Thursday that the official was living in Syria, in the northern province of Aleppo, helping to rehabilitate the ruins there. The newspaper reported that his body would be transferred to Tehran and from there to his birthplace, Semnan, in the center of the country, where he will be buried.
The presence of senior members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Lebanon is widely known, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has referred on numerous occasions to Iran's help in rehabilitating Lebanon following the war with Israel in 2006.
Nasrallah, who was been criticized for Iran's involvement in Lebanon, emphasized that Iran paid in cash and sent logistical equipment to rehabilitate Lebanon, in addition to military aid and support for the resistance.