- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2004

DAMASCUS, Syria — Israel assassinated a Palestinian militant with a car bomb that exploded after he started his vehicle yesterday. It was Israel’s first slaying of a Hamas member on Syrian soil and came after weeks of warnings that members of the Islamic militant group would not be safe anywhere.

Hamas responded by saying it may expand its fight against Israel, according to a statement on its Web site.

“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 statement said. “By today’s action, the Zionist enemy should shoulder the consequences of what it did.”

Police at the scene of the al-Zahraa district explosion were seen retrieving pieces of the body of Izz Eldine Subhi Sheik Khalil. The car exploded outside his home at 10:45 a.m. when he tried to start it, Hamas officials said.

Witnesses, however, said Mr. Khalil, who had been speaking on his mobile phone, started the car and had just begun moving in the white Mitsubishi jeep when it exploded some 10 yards from his home.

In Israel, the government issued no statement, but security officials acknowledged Israeli involvement in the killing. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Palestinian sources in Gaza said Mr. Khalil was believed to be in charge of Hamas’ military wing outside the Palestinian territories. Hamas sources in Beirut said he was a midlevel official.

Hamas has carried out dozens of suicide bombings inside Israel, and its Web site statement appeared to indicate it would start hitting at Israeli targets abroad. But the group’s spokesman in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, denied any such decision had been made.

“So far, there is no change in the policies of Hamas,” he said in Beirut. He said Hamas will retaliate “at the appropriate time and place” and was still studying its response.

Israel blames Syria for a Hamas bus bombing that killed 16 Israelis last month, saying it is ultimately responsible for the actions of Hamas and other militant groups to which it gives shelter. Mr. Khalil’s killing appeared as much a warning to Syria as to other Hamas militants.

The Syrian Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the official news agency, SANA, that Mr. Khalil had not engaged in any activity inside Syrian territory.

Ahmad Haj Ali, an adviser to the Syrian information minister, described the killing as a “terrorist and cowardly action.”

“This is not the first warning” Israel has tried to convey to Syria, Mr. Haj Ali said. “What happened indicates that Israel’s aggression has no limits.”

The killing, he said, “was meant to deliver a message to the entire world that says: ‘We are capable of striking anywhere in accordance with the Israeli agenda.’”

Israel has killed many Hamas leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including the group’s founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, earlier this year. But yesterday was the first time a Hamas member had been killed by Israel in Syria. Israel unsuccessfully tried to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan in 1997.

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