Israel credits Mossad for death of Hamas leader in Damascus

Monday, September 27, 2004

Israel has assassinated a leading Hamas operative based in Syria.

Izzedin Subhi Sheik Khalil, 42, was killed by a bomb that destroyed his car in Damascus on Sunday. This was the first time a Hamas leader was assassinated in the Syrian capital.

The Palestinian Media Center said the car bombing took place in the Al Zahraa district in Damascus at 10:45 a.m. Khalil was rushed to the hospital where he later died, Middle East Newsline reported.

Israeli officials acknowledged their government's responsibility for the assassination and said this constituted a Mossad operation. They said Syria has been the main source of money and orders for Hamas operatives in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"Syria is responsible for terrorism against us and will not be immune to our counter-terrorism activities," Deputy Defense Minister Zev Boim said.

Hamas blamed Israel for the attack, the third time a leader of the organization was killed in 2004. Palestinian sources said Hamas had been bracing for an Israeli strike in Damascus in wake of the Aug. 31 double suicide bombings in Beersheba. Sixteen Israelis were killed in the strikes and Khalil was said to have ordered the suicide bombings.

On Monday, the Kuwaiti daily Al Rai Al Aam quoted Palestinian sources in Damascus as saying that the explosives used in the car bombing were smuggled into Syria from neighboring Iraq. Israel's Mossad has been accused by Arab states of maintaining a presence in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.

"Anybody who strikes Israel or participates in murder, his blood is on his head, whether he operates within or outside of Israel. We are not confirming or denying this [assassination of Khalil]."

Khalil, who had maintained a low profile, was said to have been a leading Hamas military operative. Deported by Israel from the Gaza Strip in 1994, Khalil moved to Damascus where he became a liasion with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and helped plan a series of major attacks. He was also said to have been a major coordinator of the smuggling of weapons from Egypt to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas has vowed revenge on Israel. A Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip said the Islamic insurgency movement would strike Israeli interests abroad.

Later, Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, denied that any attacks outside Israel and the Palestinian Authority were being planned.

"The Zionist enemy has opened a new door for the struggle by transferring the battle outside the land of Palestine, despite the fact that we in Hamas insisted on keeping our weapons against the enemy in the land which they occupied and we left hundreds of thousands of Zionists alone outside of the country," the Hamas statement said. "By today's action, the Zionist enemy should shoulder the consequences of what it did."

On Sept. 24, the London-based Al Hayat daily reported that an unidentified Arab country had relayed to the Mossad information on Hamas plots. The newspaper said the Arab country also provided details on Hamas's leadership around the Middle East.

Last week, Syria was said to have closed the offices of Palestinian insurgency groups in Damascus, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Palestinian sources said the insurgency groups were discussing transferring the offices to other Arab countries, including Bahrain, Qatar or Tunisia.

Syria withheld comment for nine hours before responding to Sunday's attack. The Syrian Arab News Agency called the assassination of Khalil a terrorist act.

For their part, Israel officials said the death of Khalil was meant to change the balance of power with Hamas. They did not rule out that other elements were involved in the assassination, which had been discussed for more than a year within the Israeli intelligence community.

"I don't know whether this operation was that of the Mossad or another intelligence body," Israeli Health Minister Danny Naveh said. "The Israeli officialdom is not taking responsibility."

In 1997, Israel's Mossad attempted to assassinate Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal in Amman. Jordanian authorities captured two Mossad agents and forced Israel to provide the antidote for the poison injected into Mashaal.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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