A senior commander of the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards was assassinated, authorities said, in an attack that highlighted Iran's role in Syria's civil war.
Gen Hassan Shateri was killed on Tuesday in an ambush on the way from Damascus towards the Lebanese capital, Iran said. It blamed the attack on Israel.
Gen Shateri was also in charge of the Iranian Committee for the Reconstruction of Lebanon, set up after the war in 2006 between Israel and the Iran-supported Shia Hizbollah militia.
He died "at the hands of Zionist regime mercenaries and backers", said the force's spokesman, Ramezan Sherif.
The circumstances of his death and the purpose of his visit in Syria are still murky. The Lebanese newspaper 'As-Safir' claimed that Gen Shateri was "in Aleppo to study projects to reconstruct the city". That claim was rejected as "laughable" by opposition figures in the city, which is in the grip of war.
Last month, Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Syria, accused Iran of fighting alongside the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad (pictured above), against the Sunni-majority insurgency. "They are sending arms, they are sending other kinds of experts, and in fact we know that they are sending Iran Revolutionary Guard members," said Mr Ford.
Israeli jets were reported to have bombed a military base on the outskirts of Damascus last week.
Western diplomats said they believed that the Syrian regime may have been transferring surface-to-air missiles to Lebanon, into the hands of the Hizbollah militia, with which Israel is still at war.
Residents of the Shia district of Dahiyeh in the Lebanese capital of Beirut expressed anger at the death of Gen Shatari, whom they said had been responsible for rebuilding their livelihoods and their neighbourhoods.
Sources inside Hizbollah said they had known that Gen Shateri was a target for assassination for a long time, and that arrests had been made of men suspected of planning an attack.
Israel has been accused of using its secret service or proxy agents to murder Iranian targets before.
Four Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed in the past two years, in what Iran and other countries have said are Israeli manoeuvres in a proxy war.
Rami Abdel Rahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP that "a rebel group" had ambushed Gen Shateri's vehicle "while en route from Damascus to Beirut". (© Daily Telegraph, London)