Middle East long riven by killings of high-profile figures

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AP2009

FILE - In this June 12, 2009 file photo, Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi delivers his speech during a meeting with hundreds of prominent Italian women in a concert hall, in Rome. Killings of major political and military figures have been a recurring factor in the modern Middle East, often presenting a defining moment and changing the contours of history in several instances.Whether carried out by a foreign or domestic attacker, the slayings including some high-profile assassinations have had a huge, immediate and lasting impact. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Killings of major political and military figures have been a recurring factor in the modern Middle East, often presenting a defining moment and changing the contours of history in several instances.

Whether carried out by a foreign or domestic attacker, the slayings — including some high-profile assassinations — have had a huge, immediate and lasting impact. They have derailed promising peace efforts, fueled tinderbox conflicts or ushered in new leadership.

The killing of Iran's military figure — Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani of the Revolutionary Guard's elite fighting force — in a U.S. airstrike near the Baghdad airport on Friday could be such a moment as the region and world braces for Tehran’s retaliation and a potential wider conflict that could draw in various nations and militias.

Here’s a look at some of the most significant deaths of key leaders in the Middle East since World War II:

SWEDISH COUNT FOLKE BERNADOTTE

The Swedish diplomat and U.N. mediator in Palestine was killed in Jerusalem in 1948 by the Stern Gang, a group of Jewish militants that counted future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir among its members. During World War II, he had negotiated and helped secure the release of thousands of Jewish prisoners in German concentration camps. The Swedish nobleman's efforts at forging truce followed by a formal peace after the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948 led to his death. He would be one of several key figures slain over war and peace in the bitterly disputed Holy Land.

KING ABDULLAH I OF JORDAN

The monarch was killed in front of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem at 1951 by an Arab follower of the former mufti of the city. King Abdullah had incorporated the portion of British mandated territory, including Jerusalem and what is now the West Bank, that bordered Jordan the year before. Following Britain’s departure from Mandate Palestine, the mufti presented himself as the key driver of creating an Arab state in the territory and the Jordanian king was his political nemesis. Jordan held onto the Palestinian lands until Israel captured and occupied them in the 1967 Six Day War. The status of Jerusalem remains the thorniest all of all issues defining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.