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Sheik Abbas Musawi, a leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, was considered a moderate within the radical Shiite Muslim group but spoke approvingly of terror attacks by its "martyrs" and was an implacable foe of Israel.

The 39-year-old cleric, who was killed Sunday along with his wife and a son in an Israeli air attack, was the secretary-general of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, or Party of God.Musawi was the most influential figure in the group after Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, its spiritual guide.

After he succeeded the Sheik Subhi Tufaili as Hezbollah's top leader in May, Musawi began calling for the release of Western hostages in Lebanon, most of them believed held by fundamentalists affiliated with Hezbollah.

But although he expressed hope for the hostages' release, he also expressed understanding for the kidnappers' position and motives.

Musawi had close links with Iran's president, Hashemi Rafsanjani. Like Musawi, Rafsanjani had called for an end to the hostage-holding.

From August to December, the hostage-holders released their last British and American captives. During that period Musawi and his cousin, Islamic Amal militia leader Hussein Musawi, met frequently with U.N. envoy Giandomenico Picco, who was leading a U.N. effort to free the captives, various sources say.

But while Musawi saw the need for Hezbollah to adjust to a changing world, he remained bitterly anti-Western and anti-Israeli. He believed in armed struggle against Israel and vehemently opposed Arab-Israeli negotiations.

He spoke with pride of the Shiite suicide bombers - "Hezbollah martyrs" - who on Oct. 23, 1983, drove trucks packed with explosives into a U.S. Marine base in Beirut, killing 241 men, and a French paratroopers' base, killing 59.

"The great achievement of Hezbollah in this period is that . . . it evicted America and the multinational force from Beirut," he said in an interview last year.

He defined Hezbollah's mission as activating and stepping up "the resistance to confront the Israeli enemy."

Hezbollah units have frequently attacked Israeli soldiers or allied militiamen in Israeli's self-declared "security zone" - a 440-square-mile strip carved out of southern Lebanon in 1985.

Israeli media have said Musawi engineered the 1986 kidnappings in southern Lebanon of two Israeli soldiers whose deaths Israel learned of during the hostage negotiations.

Musawi always wore a black robe and black turban, denoting that he claimed to be a "sayyed," or a descendant of Islam's founder.

Born in Nabi Sheet near Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley in 1952, Musawi went to school in the southern city of Tyre and later studied Shiite theology at the Islamic College in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, Iraq.

The man who was later to lead Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was in exile in Najaf at the time and taught at the college. He was a powerful influence on the young Musawi.

After completing his studies, Musawi returned to Lebanon and joined Hezbollah when it was formed in 1982.

Killed with Musawai on Sunday were his wife, Siham, and his youngest son, 5-year-old Hussein. He is survived by three sons and two daughters.