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May 23, 2024

Assassination of Senior Hamas Leader in Beirut Raises Tensions

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Jan 5, 2024

A senior Hamas leader was assassinated in an explosion in Beirut on January 2nd, an attack that many suspect was carried out by Israel. The killing of 62-year-old Saleh al-Arouri, deputy leader of Hamas, has raised tensions in the region and prompted vows of retaliation from the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah.

Background on Slain Hamas Leader

Al-Arouri was a founder of Hamas’ military wing in the West Bank and served as the organization’s commander there before relocating to exile in Syria in 2010. He moved to Turkey and then Lebanon in 2012 after the outbreak of civil war in Syria.

As a high-ranking Hamas official based abroad, al-Arouri was seen as a key link between the Palestinian militant group and its state sponsors – Iran and Hezbollah. He had a long history with Hezbollah, helping to train their fighters, and was Tehran’s liaison with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (source).

Al-Arouri was considered a “specially designated global terrorist” by the United States, which had offered a $5 million reward for information on his whereabouts. Israel had also previously tried to assassinate him.

Details of the Deadly Attack

The attack took place around 22:30 local time on January 2nd, when an explosion ripped through al-Arouri’s apartment in a residential area of Beirut. Al-Arouri was confirmed dead, while his wife was wounded. No group immediately took responsibility.

Hezbollah’s TV station al-Manar reported: “The initial investigation showed that the explosives were planted in a room of the apartment that al-Arouri occupied in the Burj al-Barajneh area.” Other reports suggest remotely detonated bombs or missile strikes as the cause (sources, 2).

The usually bustling residential area was stunned in the aftermath, with no one claiming knowledge of al-Arouri’s presence (source). “He must have come here secretly, and few people knew about it,” one resident speculated.

Reaction from Hamas and Speculation on Perpetrators

Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh eulogized al-Arouri as a “martyr” and vowed retaliation:

“We shall never forget or forgive this crime, and occupying Israeli regime will pay price for it.”

Most suspect Israel’s Mossad intelligence service to be behind the rare assassination on Lebanese soil. Neither Israel nor any Palestinian faction claimed responsibility, but Hamas officials nevertheless held Israel accountable. If Israel’s involvement is confirmed, it would be the first assassination of a senior Hamas figure by Israel since 2014.

Israel has not commented directly but officials stated that Israel is “ready for any scenario” when asked about potential retaliation (source). Analysts note that the timing of the attack, ahead of Israel’s general election in November, may have been a factor.

Hezbollah’s Vow of Revenge

Lebanon’s powerful Shiite militant group Hezbollah, close allies of Iran and Hamas, were swift to condemn the killing of al-Arouri on their soil.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah declared that “blood for blood awaits,” vowing revenge against Israel which he held responsible for the “very dangerous development.” He stated in a televised address:

“We will choose the time, place and manner to respond to this Israeli crime at the time we deem appropriate.”

Nasrallah warned that Hezbollah retaliation could potentially spiral into all-out war with Israel. This places the Iran-backed group in a difficult position, as it risks triggering destructive conflict just as Lebanon grapples with financial meltdown and political paralysis (source).

Hezbollah’s Military Capability
Missile arsenal Estimated 140,000 rockets and missiles
Ranges Can reach deep into Israel, including Tel Aviv and beyond
Previous wars 34-day war with Israel in 2006 ended in stalemate

Hezbollah’s firepower makes all-out war a risky prospect for both sides

Hezbollah sources further revealed that the group had previously warned al-Arouri he could be targeted by Israel, asking him to beef up security precautions (source). Clearly those warnings were not enough to thwart the suspected Mossad operation.

Broader Regional Implications

The high-profile assassination has sparked anxieties of wider conflict beyond Lebanon’s borders. It remains unclear how Hamas will specifically retaliate, but the killing could pressure Hamas to renew rocket attacks from Gaza toward Israeli cities.

Al-Arouri had been seen as a moderating figure who enforced Hamas’ ceasefire understandings with Israel. With him gone, more radical elements in Hamas may gain sway. Israel has nonetheless said it is prepared for any scenario.

More broadly, the tensions exacerbate rifts in the Middle East. Hamas has enjoyed warming ties with Iran and Hezbollah in recent years, brought together by shared hostility toward Israel. Al-Arouri’s killing strains this rapprochement.

The tensions also underscore how the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict reverberates destructively across the wider region. There was some optimism when indirect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations briefly resumed last spring, but those talks stalled. Al-Arouri’s assassination is the latest spark that risks setting the tinderbox ablaze.

The tensions place the United States and regional allies in a bind, as they aim to avoid further escalation without alienating Israel. The U.S. State Department was notably quiet about al-Arouri’s killing, wanting to prevent inflaming the situation. But U.S. CENTCOM hinted at U.S. efforts behind the scenes to deescalate tensions.

Al-Arouri’s Hometown Bids Farewell

Amidst the geopolitical fallout, al-Arouri’s hometown held a large funeral procession to bid farewell. Al-Arouri was from the West Bank village of Arura, north of Ramallah city. Villagers turned out in force, aware he had long been living on borrowed time.

“I knew they were going to kill him,” said one childhood friend. “He was always wanted, always targeted.”

While Arura residents resignedly reckon further bloodshed is inevitable, they hope al-Arouri’s death can bring some positive change after years of conflict and loss.

As one villager put it: “We must continue the struggle, but we also hope that one day things will be better for Palestinians and Jews.” The grieving widow Um Ayman agrees: “I do not want more Palestinian mothers to suffer as I have suffered.”

Whether regional leaders heed such sentiments for peace remains to be seen. For now, the drums of war are sounding louder.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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