The Syrian state news agency said Sunday night that the assassination of a senior Hamas official in Damascus - in which Israeli security sources said Israel was involved - is a "terrorist act" committed by Israel.

The Israeli government issued no official statement regarding its involvement in the assassination. Ra'anan Gissin, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told the DPA news agency that Israel had "no knowledge" of the car bomb that killed Iz a Din al-Sheikh Khalil on Sunday morning.

Khalil, 42, died when he started the engine and an explosive charge under the driver's seat ripped through his SUV in the Az-Zahera neighborhood of Damascus around 11 A.M. Sunday. He was considered to be Hamas' most senior operative in Damascus.

Syria's official news agency, SANA, quoted an unidentified government official as saying that "this terrorist act constitutes a dangerous development for which Israel bears responsibility." Hamas, meanwhile, vowed revenge.

Israel says Khalil directed terror attacks and was responsible for coordinating operations with the military forces of Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza.

If Israel is responsible for the attack, it would be the first killing by Israel of a Hamas member on Syrian soil, after weeks of Israeli warnings that members of the group would not be safe in Syria.

Hamas appeared to threaten that the group will hit targets both in Israel and abroad.

The militant Palestinian group vowed to strike back with terror attacks inside Israel. "There will be a response that would be decided by the movement's leaders inside the occupied territories," a Hamas spokesman in Damascus said.

In a statement, the group said that it "stresses that these crimes which unify the Palestinian blood inside and outside Palestine would not terrorize us or stop us from pursuing the path of jihad and resistance."

There were also conflicting messages from Hamas over whether it plans to target Israeli targets abroad.

"We have let hundreds of thousands of Zionists travel and move in capitals of the world in order not to be the party which transfers the struggle," said a statement released in the Gaza Strip by Iz a Din al-Kassam, the military wing of Hamas. "But the Zionist enemy has done so and should bear the consequences of its actions."

However, spokesmen in Damascus and Beirut said Hamas would launch attacks only inside Israel and the territories, in keeping with the group's policy.

"There is no change until this moment in (Hamas) policies in carrying out the fight and confronting the Zionist aggression on our people," said a Hamas statement sent to a western news agency in Beirut.

Hamas "reserves the complete and legitimate right to respond to this cowardly crime at the suitable time, place and way that best serves the high interests of the Palestinian people."

Khalil attempted to smuggle arms into Gaza Recently, Khalil attempted to smuggle a large consignment of weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. He was subordinate to the political bureau of Hamas, headed by Khaled Mashal. It appears that he also had ties with Iran.

Khalil helped train Hamas' chief bomb-maker Yehiya Ayash, whom Israel assassinated in January 1996 when it booby-trapped his cellular phone, Israel Radio reported.

Israel expelled Khalil from Gaza to Lebanon in 1992, along with about 400 other Hamas members.

In the Sajaiyeh neighborhood in Gaza, people converged on the Khalil family home to pay their condolences.

Rafik Khalil blamed Israel for his brother's death, calling him a "martyr."

"Since he left the country, we have had no contact with him because he chose to live a secret life," Rafik Khalil said.

PA says int'l community must block Israeli actions The Palestinian Authority on Sunday afternoon warned against an expanding circle of violence and bloodshed that would come in response to the assassination of Khalil. The PA blamed Israel for the killing and said Israel intends to foil all possibilities of reviving the peace process.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, advisor to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, described the Damascus assassination as an extremely dangerous move and called on the international community to wake up and block further Israeli actions.

The assassination comes just days after the London-based Al-Hayat paper reported that the intelligence service of an Arab state has recently passed Israel extremely valuable information on the Hamas infrastructure in foreign countries.

According to the report, Israel's intelligence agency, the Mossad, also received detailed information on Hamas leaders Khaled Mashal and Mussa Abu Marzuk. The information reportedly included details of their places of residence, their pastimes and the type of food they eat.

The paper said that the information was handed over at the request of Mossad chief Meir Dagan following the August suicide attacks in which 16 people were killed in Be'er Sheva and which were claimed by Hamas.

In addition, according to recent reports from Damascus, the Syrian government has ordered the offices of Palestinian organizations operating in its territory closed.

Khaled al-Fahum, former chairman of the Palestinian National Council, said the Syrian authorities have closed the offices of various Palestinian organizations, including Hamas, in recent days and in some cases have even cut their phone lines.

In a laconic statement, Syrian spokesmen told the daily Al-Hayat, "The Palestinian leaders are outside Syrian territory."

Jordan condemns killing The Jordanian government added its voice on Sunday to blaming Israel for the killing of Khalil in Syria, denouncing it as an assassination and a "dangerous development."

"Jordan condemns the murder which could only undermine security and stability in the entire region and inflict heavy injuries on the peace process," a State Minister and Government spokesperson said.