Israel assassinates Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri in Lebanon’s Beirut

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Hamas confirms the targeted killing of deputy head in Dahiyeh, a residential area in southern Beirut
Arouri was a founding member of the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas (Reuters)

Israel killed senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri on Tuesday, in a targeted attack in the Lebanese capital Beirut, officials from the Palestinian movement have said.

Footage shared on social media showed the burnt-out wreckage of several vehicles in southern Beirut, as crowds gathered nearby after the attack.

Dahiyeh, where the explosion took place, is a largely residential neighbourhood but also serves as a stronghold for the Lebanese armed movement, Hezbollah, and also houses Hamas offices.

There was no confirmation of who else may have been killed in the attack, but Hamas said two commanders from the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, were also killed.

Hamas’s Al Aqsa TV later reported the names of the two commanders who were killed, Samir Findi Abu Amer and Azzam Al-Aqraa Abu Ammar

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned the explosion, calling it a “new Israeli crime”.

So far, Israel has yet to comment on the killing.

Last month, Arouri told Al Jazeera Arabic that Hamas would not discuss a prisoner exchange deal before Israel ends its offensive on Gaza, which is currently in its 88th day.

​​”The resistance is ready for all the military scenarios,” he said. “There is no fear or worry for the resistance. It will win.”

Israeli officials have repeatedly vowed to attack Hamas leaders outside of the occupied Palestinian territories, including in Lebanon, Qatar and Turkey, following the 7 October attack on southern Israel.

In November, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had instructed Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, to “assassinate all the leaders of Hamas wherever they are”.

In early December, a leaked recording revealed Ronen Bar, the head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, telling Israeli parliamentarians that Hamas leaders would be killed “in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Lebanon, in Turkey, in Qatar, everywhere … It will take a few years, but we will be there in order to do it.”

Who was Saleh al-Arouri?

Arouri was a deputy chairman of Hamas’s political bureau and chief of the group’s operations in the West Bank.

Born on 19 August 1966 in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah – when it was still under Jordanian control – he worked his way up through Hamas starting with student politics at Hebron University. Later, he was one of the founders of the movement’s military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades.

He spent 18 years in Israeli prison before being released in 2010 and deported to Syria.

Arouri lived relatively freely within Beirut, but he was placed on a US terrorist list in 2015 and had a $5m bounty on his head by Washington.

According to a New York Times report, Arouri was responsible for strengthening ties with both Iran and Hezbollah, visiting Tehran to meet the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. He also expanded the military infrastructure of Hamas within Lebanon.

His assassination on Tuesday is a serious escalation by Israel, both against Hamas’s leadership abroad and Lebanese Hezbollah.

The Lebanese group has been involved in low-level skirmishes on Lebanon’s southern border, launching periodic strikes against Israeli forces.

Israel ‘ready for any scenario’

The killing sparked protests that engulfed the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, including in Hebron where Arouri was once a student.

The head of Hamas’s political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, slammed the killing, calling it a “craven assassination” by Israel.

“The assassination of the leader al-Arouri and his brothers by the occupation is a fully-fledged terrorist act, a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty, and an expansion of its aggression,” Haniyeh said.

“All these assassinations and attacks will make us stronger and more determined than ever. This is the history of the resistance and our movement. We always become stronger and more determined,” Haniyeh said.

Haniyeh compared Arouri’s death to the Israeli assassination of other senior Hamas leaders, including the group’s founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, underscoring the serious escalation of the killing.

Hezbollah said that the attack “will not go without a response or punishment”, adding that the group has “its finger on the trigger”.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that the country’s military is at a “very high level of readiness – in all arenas, in defense and offense”, as the country braces for retaliation by Hezbollah.

“We are in a high state of readiness for any scenario,” Hagari said, without acknowledging the strike.

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