Iran cleric who founded Hezbollah dies of Covid-19

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Tehran

Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, a Shia cleric who as Iran’s ambassador to Syria helped found Hezbollah and lost his right hand to a book bombing reportedly carried out by Israel, died on Monday of the coronavirus. He was 74.

A close ally of Iran’s late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mohtashamipour formed alliances with Muslim militant groups across the Mideast in the 1970s.

After the Islamic Revolution, he helped found the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in Iran and as ambassador to Syria, brought the force into the region to help form Hezbollah.

In his later years, he slowly joined the cause of reformists in Iran, hoping to change the Islamic Republic’s theocracy from the inside.

He backed the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi in Iran’s Green Movement protests that followed the disputed 2009 re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mohtashamipour died at a hospital in northern Tehran after contracting the virus, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

The cleric, who wore a black turban that identified him in Shia tradition as a direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), had been living in the Shia holy city of Najaf, Iraq, over the last 10 years after the disputed election in Iran.

Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Mohtashamipour for his revolutionary services, while President Hassan Rouhani said the cleric devoted his life to promote Islamic movement and realisation of the revolutions ideals.—AP