Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday that a Hamas operative killed in Syria had been pursued by many people, deflecting responsibility after the Islamist group pinned the assassination on Israel.

Barak spoke to Army Radio Thursday morning, the first Israeli official to have spoken on the matter since Kamal Hussein Ranaja was found dead in Damascus late Wednesday.

Ranaja “was no saint,” Barak said, adding that there were probably many people who would be interested in his death.

Barak did not say whether Israel was involved in the incident, despite Hamas having blamed the Mossad for the act. Ranaja was found shot, with indications that he had also been tortured.

Ranaja was one of the deputies of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas military commander found dead in a Dubai hotel room in 2010. Dubai police believed Mossad was behind that death too.

The defense minister also said rebels in Syria were becoming more daring, having attacked government buildings and TV stations, and that they had already taken control of large areas of the country. Barak noted there had been “more and more defections over the past week,” and predicted the Assad regime would soon fall.

“It’s astounding that the world hasn’t yet become involved; the pictures emerging are shocking,” Barak said.

He also expressed hope that new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi would respect the peace treaty with Israel and keep the border calm.

“We hope any ruler [in Egypt] will also safeguard the security in Sinai,” he said.