Hamas vows revenge on Israel for assassination of deputy leader in Beirut

Strike that killed Saleh Al Arouri and six other Hamas leaders raises fears of the war in Gaza expanding

Workers clear debris after the drone strike in Beirut that killed Hamas deputy chief Saleh Al Arouri. EPA
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The leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, has vowed to take revenge on Israel after the assassination of one of his deputies and at least six others in a drone strike in southern Beirut on Tuesday.

After an initial agreement in principle to the terms of the Egyptian ceasefire proposal recently put forward, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders informed Egyptian mediators on Tuesday that any further negotiations have been halted in light of the attack.

In a pre-recorded message, Haniyeh called the drone strike and subsequent killing of the founder of Hamas's military wing – in addition to two of its other leaders in Beirut – an “act of complete terrorism and a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty”.

An Egyptian Foreign Ministry official told The National that Cairo received the news of Mr Al Arouri’s murder with apprehension because it will surely derail or at least delay the ongoing ceasefire negotiations and therefore prolong the war in Gaza.

“Negotiations have been very volatile from the beginning and we thought we had made headway with our last proposal, which had been met with openness from the Palestinian factions and by some in Israel,” he said. “We will have to change tactics and that will most likely take some time.”

That the drone strike might prolong the war is what some political elements in Israel – particularly the far and ultraright – hope to achieve, the Egyptian official said.

“It has become clear that some political forces in Israel are committed to continuing the war and of widening it to involve the US," he said.

"There are definitely worries that because the strike happened in Lebanon, that Hezbollah will also escalate its retaliation. [Hassan] Nasrallah’s speech today will surely shed some light on where things lie after what happened in Beirut.”

Mr Al Arouri, 57, whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised to kill before the October 7 attack, was in 2015 specially designated a global terrorist by the US Department of the Treasury, which at the time offered $5 million for information on his whereabouts.

Mr Haniyeh vowed to retaliate. "This Nazi, Zionist occupation is responsible for what’s to come,” he said.

Although Israel is yet to officially claim responsibility for the strike, the attack was celebrated by officials congratulating Israel’s security agencies for their work.

Israeli media outlets also published reports on Tuesday that Mr Netanyahu had instructed government ministers not to comment on the hit.

In a post on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, former Israeli envoy to the UN Danny Danon, a member of Mr Netanyahu's far-right Likud party, said: “I congratulate the IDF, the Shin Bet, the Mossad and the security forces for killing senior Hamas official Salah Al Arouri in Beirut."

“Anyone who was involved in the 7/10 massacre should know that we will reach out to them and close an account with them."

During an interview with the US channel MSNBC on Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu’s foreign affairs spokesman, Mark Regev, said Israel was only targeting Hamas, without claiming responsibility for the attack in Beirut.

“Obviously in Lebanon, there are many Hezbollah targets, but whoever did this strike was very surgical and went for a Hamas target because Israel is at war. Whoever did this has a gripe with Hamas,” Mr Regev said. “Whoever did this, it’s not an attack on the Lebanese state. It’s not an attack on the Hezbollah terrorist organisation. Whoever did this, it’s an attack on Hamas, that’s very clear.”

In a similar attempt to soften Hezbollah’s response, Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said the Israeli army was “focused on the fight with Hamas” and was in “a very high state of readiness in all arenas”.

The attack has heightened fears in Tel Aviv of a retaliation from Iran-backed Hezbollah, an Israeli official told Walla, a Hebrew news outlet, on Tuesday.

The strike and killing of Mr Al Arouri and his companions was also denounced by Iran, one of the main backers of Hamas and the PIJ.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian condemned the assassination on X.

"Such a cowardly terrorist operation proves that the Zionist regime has not achieved any of its goals after weeks of war crimes, genocide and destruction in Gaza and the West Bank, despite the direct support of the White House," he wrote.

Mr Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah, who has previously threatened the US against targeting any Lebanese or Palestinians, was scheduled to speak on Wednesday on the anniversary of the killing of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in a 2020 US air strike in Baghdad.

The strike on Tuesday was the first attack in Beirut since the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006.

Updated: January 03, 2024, 1:17 PM