Mossad blamed again after killing of senior Hamas agent Kamal Ghanaja

But Israel links death to rift between militant group and Syria over Assad uprising

Jerusalem

The death of a Hamas agent at his home in Damascus has sparked a series of claims and counterclaims about the identity of his killers, with some officials in the militant group blaming Mossad, Israel's intelligence service.

Israel, however, suggested that the death of Kamal Ghanaja, who was killed in his home in the city's Qudsia neighbourhood, could be linked to the rift between Hamas and Syria over the group's backing of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian opposition blamed the killing on the pro-Assad Shabiha militia.

Hamas officials identified Mr Ghanaja as a former deputy of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas operative who was smothered to death in his hotel room in Dubai in 2010, an assassination that was widely attributed to Mossad. Sources linked to Hamas told Reuters that Mr Ghanaja's flat had been set on fire and that his charred body, which bore signs of torture, had been found in a cupboard on Wednesday. The assailants were also said to have seized files from the ransacked flat.

Yisrael Hasson, an Israeli politician and former deputy chief of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence service, told Israel Radio that Ghanaja had "replaced Mabhouh, who was responsible for the supply of special weaponry to Hamas" smuggled from Libya, Iran and Syria. Mr Hasson said that Israel was concerned that arms, including shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles and anti-tank rockets, could fall into the hands of militant groups.

A Hamas official, meanwhile, told the French news agency AFP that "according to our information, Mossad was behind the assassination" of Ghanaja, though he offered no evidence to support the claim. Osama Hamdan, the senior Hamas representative in Lebanon, also said that because Hamas was in confrontation with Israel "it could be expected that the occupation would try to harm our cadres. The only beneficiary of such an action is the Zionist occupier," he said. But a Hamas statement in Gaza stopped short of accusing Israel, saying only that an investigation had been launched "to identify the party behind this deplorable crime".

The Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria, a Syrian opposition group, accused the Shabiha of torturing Ghanaja to death and setting fire to his home to "destroy the evidence of their heinous crime".

Asked about the allegations of Israeli involvement, the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, told Israel Radio: "I don't think that is necessarily true." In a separate interview, he added that "it is possible that not only Israel" was after Ghanaja, who he said "was no saint".

The political leadership of Hamas had been based in Damascus for years, but tensions with the Syrian government increased after the group failed to support the crackdown on the uprising against Assad. Most senior Hamas officials have left Damascus, including the leader, Khaled Mashal, relocating to Egypt, the Gaza Strip and Qatar.

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