ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Orchestrated terror attacks including 2014 murder of 3 teens

Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri killed in alleged Israeli strike in Beirut

Israel mum on blast at Hamas office in Dahiyeh suburb said to kill 7 including terror chief; all eyes on Hezbollah, which said it would respond to any targeting of Hamas in Lebanon

Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri. (Courtesy)
Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri. (Courtesy)

Hamas’s deputy leader abroad Saleh al-Arouri, wanted for years by Israel and seen as the group’s prime orchestrator of West Bank terrorism, was killed Tuesday evening in an Israeli strike in the Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, officials with Hamas and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah said.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said the blast was carried out by an Israeli drone.

Israeli officials declined to comment. Unnamed US officials told the New York Times and Washington Post that Israel was responsible.

The explosion shook the Lebanese capital’s southern suburbs, which are a stronghold of Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas. The explosion caused a fire on Hadi Nasrallah Street, south of Beirut.

Hamas confirmed that seven people in total were killed in the explosion, a precision strike on a third-floor apartment said to serve as an office for the terror group. The others besides Arouri were identified as military commanders Samir Findi and Azzam Al-Aqraa, along with Hamas figures Mahmoud Shaheen, Muhammad Bashasha, Muhammad al-Rayes and Ahmed Hammoud.

According to reports, Findi oversaw Hamas military activities in Lebanon — including the firing of rockets at Israel — and was considered the terror group’s point man with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Al-Aqraa reportedly orchestrated terror activities in the West Bank from overseas.

Israel has vowed to target all leaders of Hamas after the terror group’s devastating October 7 attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and saw the abduction of over 240 others.

If Israel is behind the attack it could mark an escalation in the regional conflict. Hezbollah has been carrying out attacks against Israel’s north since the war in Gaza began, citing support for Hamas, leading to limited but daily clashes along the border amid concerns of a larger war.

People search for survivors following a massive explosion in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, on Tuesday, January 2, 2024, in which Hamas deputy chief Salah al-Arouri was killed. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to retaliate against any Israeli targeting of Palestinian officials in Lebanon. Arouri was regarded as close to Nasrallah, and was reportedly scheduled to meet with the Hezbollah leader on Wednesday.

Based in Lebanon, Arouri, 57, was one of the founders of Hamas’s military wing, deputy head of the terror group’s political bureau and considered the de facto leader of Hamas’s military wing in the West Bank, though he has long resided elsewhere. He was regarded as the most notorious Hamas figure in orchestrating West Bank terrorism against Israel.

In this photo released on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, by the Hezbollah Media Relations Office, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, right, meets with Ziad al-Nakhaleh, the head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, center, and Hamas deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, in Beirut, Lebanon. (Hezbollah Media Relations Office, via AP )

“The cowardly assassinations carried out by the Zionist occupation against the leaders and symbols of our Palestinian people inside and outside Palestine will not succeed in breaking the will and steadfastness of our people or in undermining the continuation of their valiant resistance,” senior Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq said in a statement, claiming that the strike “proves once again the abject failure of the enemy to achieve any of its aggressive goals in the Gaza Strip.”

The Ramallah branch of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party announced a general strike for Wednesday in response to the deadly strike.

MK Danny Danon (Likud) tweeted on X that he congratulated “the IDF, the Shin Bet, the Mossad and all security forces” for Arouri’s killing. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also tweeted, though more ambivalently, quoting the Book of Judges: “So let all thine enemies perish.”

Channel 12 reported that cabinet secretary Yossi Fuchs sent a directive to ministers ordering them not to speak publicly about the alleged Israeli strike. Neither Danon nor Smotrich deleted their tweets, however.

At a November 22 press conference in Tel Aviv held alongside members of the war cabinet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had “already instructed” the country’s Mossad spy agency to target the heads of Hamas “wherever they are.”

FILE – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz address a press conference at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 22, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

At the same November press conference, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant weighed in to say all Hamas leaders were walking dead men. “They are living on borrowed time,” Gallant said of the terror chiefs. “The struggle is worldwide: From gunmen in the field to those who are enjoying luxury jets while their emissaries are acting against women and children — they are destined to die.”

A long history of terrorism

Israeli intelligence officials believe that among numerous other attacks, Arouri helped plan the June 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens — Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel.

He 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 in 2011.

He relocated to Istanbul but was later forced to move when Israel briefly patched up ties with Turkey amid years of acrimony (ties have once again soured amid the latest war in Gaza).

The three kidnapped and murdered teens, from left to right: Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach. (Courtesy)

After spending time in Syria, Arouri eventually moved to Beirut. From there he managed Hamas operations in the West Bank, pushing terror activities and arranging the transfer of funds to pay for attacks.

He was also one of the Hamas officials most closely connected to Iran and the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon. There, Arouri is believed to have established a local Hamas force from activists in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

On October 7, while watching Hamas terrorists livestream their brutal attack on Israel, Arouri, along with the head of the Hamas political bureau Ismail Haniyeh, and other members of Hamas leadership was seen in a video “prostrating in gratitude,” apparently in Qatar.

In an October 8 interview with Al Jazeera, Arouri defined the unprecedented assault launched by the terror group on Israel the day before — in which Hamas terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, amid brutal atrocities including rape, execution and burning — as an “open battle” aimed at achieving the “liberation” of the Palestinian people and their holy places. He claimed it was a reaction to the alleged “desecration” by Jewish worshipers of the Al-Aqsa compound on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount over the holiday of Sukkot, and alleged that Israel had planned to impose an unspecified “new reality” on the Temple Mount after the holiday.

“We have a plan for all stages of this conflict,” Arouri said then, “both in case of an Israeli request for a ceasefire and in case of a continuing escalation of the violence. We are prepared for all options.” He added that an Israeli ground invasion would be the “best scenario” for Hamas.

“We entered this battle not just for a few hours. We entered it knowing that there will be consequences, and we have no choice but to fight it to achieve our high goals,” he said.

Ismail Haniyeh, right, the head of the Hamas political bureau, shakes hands with his deputy Saleh al-Arouri, upon his arrival in Gaza from Cairo, Egypt, in Gaza City, August 2, 2018. (Mohammad Austaz/Hamas Media Office via AP)

In late October, in response to the massacres, Israel launched a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip with the stated goal of destroying Hamas. The fighting is ongoing, with the Strip’s north largely under Israeli control, while intensive battles continue in the south and center.

Arouri was instrumental in negotiations for the release of some hostages in November, when some 100 were freed during a weeklong truce. In early December, he said in an interview with Al Jazeera that negotiations with Israel for further releases of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners had halted and that there would be no further exchanges until Israel ended its war in Gaza.

On October 31, the Israel Defense Forces demolished a home owned by Arouri in the West Bank town of ‘Arura, near Ramallah. After the building was destroyed, a banner hung by the IDF was displayed on the rubble depicting a combination of the Hamas and Islamic State terror group flags along with the slogan, in Arabic, “Hamas = ISIS.”

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