Hamas on Thursday announced that top commander Saleh al-Arouri, who in recent years served as the terror group’s head of West Bank operations, will be appointed as the organization’s deputy political leader.
Arouri will thus serve under Ismail Haniyeh, who himself replaced Khaled Mashaal as the group’s political bureau chief in May.
Arouri, who is believed by Israel to have planned the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, was expelled from Doha in June along with other Hamas officials due to pressures it faced by other Arab states.
He is believed to have since settled in Lebanon, and was publicly spotted in Beirut in August.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has said Arouri continues to plan terror attacks against Israel and has been attempting “to boost the relationship between Hamas and Hezbollah” with Iranian support.
Arouri served several terms in Israeli jails, and was released in March 2010 as part of efforts to reach a larger prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit, an IDF corporal kidnapped by Hamas in 2006. Arouri went on to be involved in sewing up the deal that provided for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in return for the freeing of Shalit.
He operated from Turkey for several years during a low in diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Ankara, but was required to leave when the sides reconciled in 2016. He then moved to Qatar before being driven out in June of this year.
Israeli intelligence officials believe that Arouri helped plan the June 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens — Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel — as well as numerous other attacks.
Israel’s Channel 10 reported Thursday night that Israeli officials fear Arouri’s powerful position in Hamas could lead to an upsurge in terror if Fatah-Hamas reconciliation goes ahead, since Fatah could give Hamas greater flexibility and freedom in the West Bank.
Agencies contributed to this report.