Israel Kills Senior Hamas Leader in Beirut Strike: Report

Smoke rises as a man stands on a damaged building at the site of an explosion, in what security sources say is an Israeli drone strike, in the Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, Lebanon January 2, 2024. (Reuters)
January 2, 2024

Israel killed Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri in a drone strike in Lebanon's capital Beirut on Tuesday, Lebanese and Palestinian security sources said, as its forces kept pummeling parts of Gaza, vowing further "high-intensity" warfare against the Islamist militant group in the enclave.

Hamas's Al Aqsa Radio and Lebanon's pro-Iranian Mayadeen TV confirmed word from security sources that Arouri, a member of the Palestinian Islamist movement's politburo based abroad and a cofounder of Hamas's military wing, the Qassam Brigades, had been killed when a drone struck a Hamas office in south Beirut.

In all, the drone attack killed six people in the city's southern suburb of Daliyeh, the Lebanese state news agency reported earlier, underlining the risk of the Israel-Hamas war spreading well beyond the Gaza Strip.

Lebanon's heavily armed Hezbollah group, a Hamas ally, has been exchanging near-daily fire with Israel across Lebanon's southern border since the Gaza war erupted in early October.

Lebanon's caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati condemned the drone blast as a "new Israeli crime" and said it was an attempt to pull Lebanon into war.

In response to questions from Reuters, the Israeli military said it does not respond to reports in the foreign media.

Mark Regev, an adviser to the Israeli prime minister, said in an interview with MSNBC TV that Israel "has not taken responsibility for this attack. But whoever did it, it must be clear—this was not an attack on the Lebanese state. ... Whoever did this did a surgical strike against the Hamas leadership."

Israel had accused Arouri of supervising and ordering Hamas attacks in the Israel-occupied West Bank in support of militants fighting Israel's devastating air and ground offensive in Gaza.

"I am waiting for martyrdom and I think I have lived too long," Arouri said in August 2023, alluding to Israeli threats to eliminate Hamas leaders whether in Gaza or abroad.

The war was triggered by a shock cross-border Hamas assault on Israeli towns on Oct. 7 that Israel says killed 1,200 people with some 240 hostages spirited back to Gaza—the bloodiest single day in the Jewish state's 75-year history.

The Gaza health ministry said 207 people had been killed in the past 24 hours, bringing the total recorded Palestinian death toll to 22,185 in nearly three months of war in Gaza, the most lethal chapter of the decades-long Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets of Ramallah in the West Bank to condemn Arouri's killing, chanting, "Revenge, revenge, Qassam!"

Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant said operations around Khan Younis, southern Gaza's main city, concentrated on areas above the tunnel network where Hamas leaders were believed to be hiding.

"We are reaching them all ways. There already is engagement and there are (Israeli) hostages there too, sadly," he told troops in Gaza in footage shown on Israeli television.

"This will continue as high-intensity efforts in the heart of Khan Younis," he said.

Civilian casualties have mounted in south Gaza as the brunt of Israel's offensive has shifted there from the north. Israel says it tries to avoid harm to civilians but blames Hamas for embedding fighters among them, an accusation the militant group denies.

The United States, Israel's main supporter, has been urging it to rein in its air and ground blitz, which has demolished vast tracts of densely populated Gaza, in favor of more targeted strikes focusing on Hamas leaders.

Israel has announced plans to pull back some troops, hinting at a new phase in the war amid a rising global outcry over the plight of Gaza civilians, although also warned its offensive has many months to run.

Israeli bombardments have engulfed Gaza's 2.3 million residents in a humanitarian disaster in which thousands have been left destitute and threatened by famine due to a lack of food supplies.

Shortly before Arouri's killing, Hamas's paramount leader Ismail Haniyeh, who is also based outside Gaza, said the movement had delivered its response to an Egyptian-Qatari ceasefire proposal.

He reiterated that Hamas's conditions entailed "a complete cessation" of Israel's offensive in exchange for further releases of hostages.

Israel believes 129 hostages remain in Gaza after some were released during a brief truce in late November and others were killed during air strikes and rescue or escape attempts.

Israel has vowed not to cease fighting until it has wiped out Hamas but it is unclear what it plans to do with the enclave should it succeed, and where that leaves the prospect of an independent Palestinian state.

Gaza residents said Israeli warplanes and tanks stepped up bombardments of eastern and northern districts of Khan Younis, where tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians have sought refuge after being forced to flee their homes elsewhere.

In separate statements, Hamas and its Islamic Jihad allies said they fired mortar bombs and anti-tank rockets at Israeli ground forces in Khan Younis and were preventing them advancing to its western area. Israel made no comment on these reports.

In the Gaza Strip's north, Gallant said, Israel had destroyed 12 Hamas regiments and only a few thousand militants remained out of 15,000-18,000 that had been based in the area. Others had fled to the south, he said.

"The significance, tactically, operationally, is that in this [northern] area there will be attacks, entering and maneuvering, special operations," said Gallant. "This is to exhaust the enemy, kill it, and control the territory."

Israel said on Tuesday its forces had also killed dozens of Hamas militants in Gaza's north in the past day. In addition, Palestinian residents said, Israeli tanks had shelled parts of the Al-Bureij refugee camp in the central area of the enclave. "In the Jabalia area [near Gaza City], troops killed dozens of terrorists, among them those who attempted to plant explosive devices, others who operated drones, and those who were armed identified driving toward the forces," the Israeli military said in its latest daily briefing.

(Reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo, Arafat Barbakh in Gazaq, Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; writing by Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich; editing by Gareth Jones and Tomasz Janowski)

Published under: Hamas , Israel