A senior Hamas terrorist believed by Israel to have planned the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank was spotted publicly in Lebanon’s capital Beirut for the first time since he was expelled from Qatar in June.
In photos published Wednesday, Saleh al-Arouri can be seen meeting with senior Iranian official Hossein Amir Abdollahian — a former deputy foreign minister — and a number of other members of Hamas, among them senior spokesman Osama Hamdan and the terror group’s representative in Lebanon, Ali Barka.
Also present at the meeting was Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.
During the meeting, the participants discussed continued “resistance” against Israel and the recent tensions surrounding the Temple Mount following the July 14 terror attack at the holy site, Iran’s IRNA news agency reported.
After his expulsion from Qatar in June, al-Arouri moved to Lebanon, where he is being hosted by the Hezbollah terror group in its Dahieh stronghold in southern Beirut, Channel 2 reported last month.
Citing Palestinian sources, the report said that Arouri and two other senior Hamas figures have relocated to the Hezbollah-dominated neighborhood in the Lebanese capital, an area heavily protected with checkpoints on every access road.
On June 5, Palestinian sources confirmed that Qatar — which is embroiled in a boycott by Saudi Arabia and four other Arab states — had asked several top Hamas officials to leave for Lebanon, Turkey and Malaysia.
A few days later, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman charged that Arouri had resettled in Lebanon, where he has been planning, along with two other activists, terror attacks against Israel.
During a meeting with visiting American UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Liberman alleged that Arouri has also been attempting “to boost the relationship between Hamas and Hezbollah,” the Shiite Lebanese militia, “under an Iranian umbrella, and with the assistance of the Revolutionary Guards and [its leader] Qassem Soleimani,” according to a statement from the Defense Ministry.
Lebanon is a “sovereign country” that maintains high-level bilateral ties with the United States, Liberman said, urging Washington to pressure Lebanon into expelling the three Hamas activists.
In its report last month, Channel 2 said that Arouri may have chosen Beirut because the list of countries willing to host him is now limited and he fears Israel may try to exact revenge for the murder of the teenagers.
Arouri, is said to be Hamas’s military commander in the West Bank and the founder of the West Bank branch of its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
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.
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.
That event was followed by a sharp crackdown on Hamas operatives in the West Bank by Israel, to which Hamas responded with heavy rocket fire. The rocket fire was answered, in turn, by Israel’s launching of a major operation against Gaza, which turned into all-out war between Hamas and the Jewish state during that summer.
Qatari officials have reportedly apologized for having to expel Hamas officials, but said it came as a result of “external pressures.”
Agencies contributed to this report.