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Hamas leader killed in Syria, official says

From Ben Wedeman and Rula Amin

A car bomb exploded in Damascus, killing Hamas leader Izz al-Din al-Sheikh Khalil, a Hamas official said.
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(CNN) -- A Hamas leader was killed Sunday when a car exploded in Damascus, Syria, an official of the Palestinian militant group told CNN.

Israeli news media and The Associated Press, citing unnamed Israeli security sources, said Israel was involved in the killing of Izz al-Din al-Sheikh Khalil. Israeli officials had no comment to CNN about the death of Khalil.

It was not clear whether the explosion that killed Khalil, described as a mid-level figure within the organization, was from his own car or a nearby one.

Khalil is the latest Hamas leader to be killed in recent months. Israel killed Hamas spiritual leader Shaikh Ahmed Yassin in late March, and just a few weeks later his successor, Abdul Aziz Al-Rantisi, was killed.

Hamas spokesman Usama Hamdan accused Israel of carrying out the Khalil killing, saying the Jewish state could only do so with the help and support of the United States.

"All these assassinations will not deter Hamas or stop it from carrying out its policies and its program," Hamdan said. "It shows that there is no use for a political solution to this conflict."

Khalil, 42, was deported from Gaza in 1992 and had been living in Syria for a number of years, Hamdan said.

Israel has a history of pursuing Palestinian militant leaders beyond its borders.

Israel was responsible for killing Khalal Al-Wazir, a deputy of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also known as Abu Jihad, in Tunis in 1988; and Islamic Jihad leader Fathi Shiqaqi in Malta in 1995. In Jordan in 1997, Israel tried to assassinate Khalid Misha'al, who has since become the leader of Hamas, based in Syria.

Israeli officials have warned repeatedly that they will pursue the leadership of militant Palestinian organizations wherever they are.

Moshe Yaalon, Israel's army chief of staff, recently said that "anyone who is responsible for terrorism against us should not sleep quietly."

Hamas, which is considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings last month in the Israeli city of Beer Sheva that left 16 people dead.

The killing comes at a time when Syria is reportedly moving to expel Palestinian militant groups from the country, and there are reports that Hamas' exiled leadership is looking for a new home.

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