Iranian official killed leaving Syria - embassy

BEIRUT Thu Feb 14, 2013 2:39pm IST

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - An Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander in charge of Tehran's reconstruction assistance in Lebanon has been killed in Syria by rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad, Iranian officials and a rebel commander said.

He said the attack was carried out by rebel fighters near the Syrian town of Zabadani, a few miles (km) from the Lebanese border.

The Iranian embassy in Lebanon said Hessam Khoshnevis was killed in an attack by "armed terrorist groups" on the road to Lebanon as he returned to Beirut from Damascus.

Iran has been a strong backer of Assad as he battles a 22-month uprising against his rule. The revolt has spiralled into civil war in which the United Nations says nearly 70,000 people have been killed.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards public relations office said a commander was "martyred on his way from Damascus to Beirut by mercenaries" and would be buried in his home town of Semnan in Iran on Friday.

Lebanon's Al-Safir newspaper said Khoshnevis, head of an Iranian agency which helped reconstruction in Lebanon following a 2006 war between Israel and the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, had been in Syria to study reconstruction plans for the northern city of Aleppo.

(Reporting by Dominic Evans, Mariam Karouny and Zahra Hossenian; editing by Jon Boyle)

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