Thousands gather in Beirut for funeral of Hamas official killed in Israeli strike

Saleh Al Arouri was the most senior member of Hamas to be killed since October 7

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Thousands of mourners gathered in Beirut on Thursday for the funeral of Saleh Al Arouri, the senior Hamas official assassinated in an Israeli strike in the Lebanese capital earlier this week.

The funeral procession to the Palestine Martyrs Cemetery was attended by people of all backgrounds and classes: Palestinians and Lebanese, women and children, politicians and boy scouts.

“I came today because Palestine is my homeland, my heritage, and I take pride in it,” said Nour El Khatib, 14, a resident of the Shatila refugee camp who attended the funeral with her mother.

Many Palestinian residents of Lebanon were bused from the country's various refugee camps to attend the funeral.

Mr Al Arouri was the deputy leader of Hamas's political bureau and the most senior official to be killed since the Israel-Gaza war began on October 7. He was a founding member of Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades, and despite residing in exile in Lebanon, still oversaw military operations in the West Bank.

He joined Hamas in 1987, but had lived in Lebanon since 2015. Numerous senior Hamas officials live in exile in Lebanon, as does Ziyad Nakhaleh, the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The procession of his body began at the Imam Ali Mosque in southern Beirut, before heading to a cemetery close to the Shatila refugee camp. Shots were fired from nearby rooftops throughout the procession – a common expression of mourning and celebration in the Arab world, particularly for respected leaders.

“Being here is our religious duty against the Zionist entity [Israel]. Saleh Al Arouri is a martyr, the martyr of the Ummah. I’m Lebanese, but in the religious context, there is no difference with Palestinians. We are all Muslims,” Mahmoud Diab, 56, told The National.

“He left a legacy for others to continue their path. We are waiting for a retaliation, but everything will come in its time. We can't respond immediately. When the time comes, an important blow will be delivered.”

Mr Al Arouri's casket was accompanied by two others throughout the procession: that of Azzam El Aqraa, a commander in the Qassam Brigades, and Mohammad El Rais, a member of the movement, both of whom were killed in the same strike attributed to Israel.

The killing of the Hamas leader and his colleagues occurred the day before the fourth anniversary of the assassination Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani.

Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas in Gaza and elsewhere due to the group's orchestration of the October 7 attack on Israel, which prompted the assault on the strip.

Hezbollah, which is allied with two Palestinian militant groups and called the assassination an attack on Lebanon's sovereignty, has vowed to retaliate.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah described the strike as a “flagrant attack” that “will not go unpunished” in his public address Wednesday night.

Even in Lebanon's deeply divided political scene, the attack has been condemned on all sides as a breach of sovereignty. Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati was among those to criticise the attack in a statement, describing it as “a new Israeli crime” that sought to drag Lebanon further into conflict with Israel.

He had called on the international community to “exert pressure” on Israel to stop its attacks.

When the procession ended near the cemetery, a recorded speech from Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh was broadcast on loudspeakers. Whispers rippled in the crowd as the recording began.

“Palestine and Lebanon mourn and say farewell to a great man who led battles in all fields – in the homeland and outside of it,” Mr Haniyeh said.

He also made a reference to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.

“The world has witnessed our resistance and our historical patience in Gaza, even after the eternal battles and brutal massacres we have faced,” he said.

“This chain of assassinations won’t stop with Saleh Al Arouri or his brothers” in arms.

The group is prepared for a “long battle” and “will not forsake its morality, strategy or principles”, he added.

“The battle is lengthy – but so is our spirit,” Mr Haniyeh said.

The killing has sparked anger in the occupied West Bank, where Mr Al Arouri had significant influence, with hundreds protesting in Ramallah and in his home village nearby.

In Jerusalem, shops closed on Wednesday in response to calls for a general strike.

Updated: January 04, 2024, 8:02 PM