Israel Threatens Syria, Warns
Of Pre-Emptive Strikes

By Mark Heinrich
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israel accused Syria on Monday of "directing terrorism" and warned it could face pre-emptive strikes against militants on its territory, but stopped short of saying it killed a Hamas leader in Damascus.
Syria had accused Israel of terrorism following the Palestinian militant's death in a car bombing on Sunday, three weeks after Hamas killed 16 Israelis in bombings Israel blamed on Hamas exiles in Damascus.
In the latest violence, an Israeli helicopter missile strike killed a Palestinian militant traveling with other members of the Popular Resistance Committees, an umbrella militant group, in a car in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, medics said.
Earlier, Israeli troops shot dead two fighters trying to plant a bomb near Gaza's border fence, Palestinian security sources said.
In the West Bank, Israeli police arrested a Jewish settler for the shooting death of a Palestinian taxi driver, and in the city of Nablus, soldiers killed two Palestinians during what residents said were confrontations with stone-throwers. Israeli military sources said the troops shot two armed men.
Taking aim at Syria, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim said the Jewish state's northern neighbor was "a central junction in regional terrorism" and President Bashar al-Assad "works there as the traffic officer."
"Syria is responsible for directing this terrorism against us and therefore it cannot be immune to our operations aimed at preventing terror," Boim said on Israel Radio.
Asked whether Israel was behind the killing of Izz el-Deen al-Sheikh Khalil, 42, who Palestinian sources said headed Hamas's military wing outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Boim said: "I didn't say that. We don't confirm or deny this."
Channel Two television quoted unnamed security sources as saying Israeli agents had planted the bomb which tore apart Khalil when he turned the ignition of his car.
Syria's state radio on Monday said Israel's practices were keeping the region in a "state of tension and danger" and called on the international community to restrain the Jewish state.
"It is not in any one's interest in the region or outside that silence on the Israeli aggressive and terrorist practices and killings and destructive operations against the Palestinian people continues," the radio said in a commentary.
Hamas threatened to retaliate in an accelerating cycle of violence that could complicate Israel's planned evacuation of settlers and soldiers from occupied Gaza next year.
Militants have cranked up ambush attacks in the past few weeks, keen to cast any Israeli pullout as fleeing under fire, and citing Israel's intent to hold on to larger settlements in the West Bank as a trade-off for jettisoning the Gaza Strip.
Hamas, an Islamist movement bent on destroying Israel, has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings in a four-year-old uprising in which more than 2,500 Palestinians have also died.
Israel says Syria has permitted exiled Palestinian militant leaders to orchestrate attacks from bases in Damascus. Syria says Hamas and other Palestinian groups have only "information offices" in the country.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie, a Fatah moderate, on Monday condemned the "assassination of the martyr Khalil" and called it an Israeli attempt to "export the crisis."
Israel had warned it would renew an assassination campaign against Hamas leaders wherever they were after bus bombings on Aug. 31 that killed 16 people in the city of Beersheba.
- Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Wafa Amr in Ramallah, Atef Sa'ad in Nablus, Megan Goldin in Jerusalem, Inal Ersan in Damascus; Editing by Sami Aboudi
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