updated 9/27/2004 3:07:45 PM ET 2004-09-27T19:07:45

Thousands of Palestinians, many shouting for revenge, buried a Hamas leader who was killed in a car bomb assassination blamed on Israel, while Israel on Monday threatened strikes against Syria and accused its president of direct involvement in terrorism.

Izz Eldine Subhi Sheik Khalil, 42, was killed in Damascus on Sunday by a bomb that tore apart his car, the first killing of a Hamas member in Syria. Israeli security officials in Jerusalem, speaking anonymously, acknowledged Israel was behind the attack, though the government issued no statement.

In Israel, Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim issued a toughly worded threat against Syria, saying President Bashar Assad is directly involved in terrorism.

Boim said the issue was not who killed Khalil, but rather Syria’s deep involvement in terrorism. “Syria is responsible for directing terrorism against us and therefore it is not immune from our operations to prevent terrorism,” he told Israel Radio.

“This is a central thing that needs to be said ... anyone who hurts Israel, anyone who takes part in terrorism that leads to murder and death ... of Israelis, he’ll pay for it, and it doesn’t matter if he operates in Israel or abroad,” he added.

Boim described Syria as a “central intersection” of terrorism and Assad as the “traffic officer” directing the operations and harboring the groups. He did not acknowledge any Israeli role in Sunday’s assassination.

After Aug. 31 suicide bombings that killed 16 Israelis in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, Israeli leaders have warned that members of the militant group that sends suicide bombings into Israel would not be safe abroad.

Boim said Hamas’ threats should not be taken lightly.

“But we have to very aware and not take our eyes off the special place Syria holds in the chain of terrorism, regionally and globally,” he added.

Funeral procession
Khalil’s funeral procession began at the Al-Wassim Mosque in the refugee camp of Yarmouk outside Damascus, with about 3,000 mourners waving Palestinian and Hamas flags and walking behind a hearse carrying the coffin through the narrow streets. The coffin was draped in a green Hamas flag.

The mourners shouted “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great” — and “Revenge, revenge” as Khalil was buried at the camp’s Martyrs’ Cemetery.

Several Hamas leaders, including deputy head of the political bureau Moussa Abu Marzouk and political bureau member Mohammed Nazzal, attended the funeral amid tight security.

Osama Hamdan, Hamas’ representative in Lebanon, condemned Khalil’s killing as a “cowardly” act, saying Hamas is “still studying and assessing the possibility of moving its operations outside the Palestinian territories.” With him were members of the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla group.

Also present were Khalil’s family, including his father and brother who came from Gaza, and his wife, who wore a black coat with a white veil covering her head. Khalil is survived by two daughters and a son.

The camp’s shops and schools were closed Monday in mourning.

One angry Palestinian, Aysar Ahmad, 49, said Israel “has exceeded the limits” by assassinating Khalil in Damascus. “We want to fight them (the Israelis) outside Palestine through their embassies, airline agencies and even their places of worship,” she said.

Rare strike inside Syria
Syria appeared to be considering its response to the killing. Khalil’s assassination is considered a major security breach for Syria, a tightly controlled country where such attacks are virtually unheard of.

In a terse statement Sunday, a Syrian government official blamed Israel for the assassination, saying that “this terrorist operation constitutes a dangerous development for which Israel bears responsibility.” It did not elaborate.

Last October, Israel sent its warplanes to bomb a Damascus-area base of the Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian militant group that launches attacks against Israel targets. The airstrike, the first in two decades, was retaliation for a Jihad suicide bombing at a restaurant in Haifa where 19 people were killed.

Also Monday, an Egyptian official involved in preparations for Israel’s anticipated withdrawal from the Gaza Strip postponed a trip to Israel. Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman did not give a reason but Israeli officials said it was unrelated to Khalil’s death.

Suleiman has been pressuring Hamas for months to commit to a cease-fire. The assassination was likely to complicate those efforts.

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