DAMASCUS (Reuters) – A car bomb killed a suspected Hamas military chief in Damascus on Sunday. The Palestinian militant group blamed Israel and vowed to retaliate. Izz el-Deen al-Sheikh Khalil, believed to be in charge of Hamas’ military wing outside the Palestinian territories, died when an explosive charge placed under the driver’s seat ripped through his SUV car in the Az-Zahera neighborhood of the Syrian capital shortly after 11:30 a.m., witnesses said.
The explosion went off shortly after Khalil started the engine, witnesses said.
Blood was splattered on the back seat. The blast shattered windows in high-rise buildings and damaged a nearby car.
A spokesman for the militant Palestinian group in Gaza said the killing was “a cowardly crime by the Zionist Mossad,” Israel’s intelligence agency.
A spokesman in Damascus said Hamas would launch attacks inside Israel to avenge his death.
Israeli officials declined comment on possible Israeli involvement. “Some people lead dangerous lives,” one Israeli official said.
Israeli security officials had said the military would answer twin bus bombings that killed 16 people in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on Aug. 31 with a renewed assassination campaign against Hamas leaders in the Palestinian territories and abroad.
Israeli army chief Moshe Yaalon said earlier this month Israel would “deal with … those who support terrorism,” including those in “terror command posts in Damascus.”
MILITARY CHIEF? Palestinian sources said Khalil, 42, was believed to be in charge of Hamas’ military wing outside the Palestinian territories.
Osama Hamdan, Hamas’ representative in Lebanon, said Khalil was an official of the group and not one of its more senior leaders. He said Khalil had been exiled by Israel to Lebanon 12 years ago.
“Hamas … holds the Zionist occupation forces responsible for this crime,” the group said in a statement. “It stresses that these crimes which unify the Palestinian blood inside and outside Palestine would not terrorize us or stop us from pursuing the path of jihad and resistance.”
Last March, Israel killed Hamas’ co-founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in a helicopter missile strike as he left a mosque in Gaza City.
His successor, Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, was killed a month later in a similar Israeli attack in Gaza City.
Hamas, a fundamentalist Islamic group dedicated to Israel’s destruction, has carried out dozens of suicide bombings in the Jewish state since the start of a Palestinian uprising four years ago.