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BEIRUT - A senior Hamas member has been killed in a suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus, an official of the group told AFP on Thursday, accusing Israel's spy agency of carrying out the attack.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak responded coyly to the suggestion, telling army radio: "I'm not sure that that's necessarily right."
Hamas said its member, Kamal Hussein Ghannaja, was killed on Wednesday.
"A group of people entered his home in Qudsaya ... where he was liquidated," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"According to our information, Mossad was behind the assassination," he added, referring to Israel's foreign intelligence agency.
The official said Ghannaja was one of the deputies of Mahmud al-Mabhuh, a senior Hamas military commander found dead in a Dubai hotel room in 2010. Investigators in the Gulf emirate have accused Mossad of that murder.
But in Israel, Barak said it was not "necessarily true" that Mossad was behind Ghannaja's assassination, adding that nonetheless he would not mourn the Hamas member because he was not "one of the righteous of his generation."
Syria has long allowed Hamas to operate offices in Damascus, but in recent months, the Palestinian group has quietly moved most of its operations elsewhere as an uprising that is spiralling into civil war has rocked the country.
'Tortured to death'
For their part, Local Coordination Committees, made up of anti-regime activists on the ground in Syria, accused the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and his militiamen, known as shabiha, of being behind Ghannaja's assassination, claiming that he was "tortured to death".
"He was visiting Syria and nobody knew he was in the country apart from the security services who gave him permission to enter," said Hifawi Mohamed, a member of the LCC in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk in Damascus.
"The way the body was mutilated and the attempt to burn the house are all methods that point to the involvement of the security forces," Mohamed told AFP.
Ghannaja was unreachable Tuesday night, the day before his body was found, according to the activist.
His assassination came as violence in Syria, including in Qudsaya, has intensified.
Regime repression and clashes between rebels and government forces have left hundreds dead over the past two weeks, while more than 15,800 people have been killed since the outbreak of the revolt in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The situation in neighboring Syria has been a key concern for Israel, and topped the agenda of talks between Israeli officials and Russian President Vladimir Putin who visited the Jewish state this week.
Barak on Thursday expressed hope that no new arms would be sent to Syria, adding that Putin "listened perfectly to what we said" on the issue, particularly on the delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missiles.
Israel is still technically at war with Syria, but the armistice line separating the neighbours has been largely quiet in recent years, leading some to suggest that the fall of Assad could be bad for the Jewish state.
However in recent months, after initially declining to make public comments, Israeli leaders have condemned Assad's crackdown, saying it is only a matter of time before he is ousted.
"The Assad family is losing control over Syria," Barak said on Thursday.
"Assad will fall, the forces of the opposition control significant parts of Syria. But the longer it takes, the more difficult it will be to stabilise the situation."