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A senior Hamas leader has been killed in an explosion at one of the group’s offices in Beirut, an attack that Lebanon blamed on an Israeli drone strike.
Hizbollah, the powerful Lebanese militant movement, told the Financial Times that one of the dead was Hamas’s deputy political leader Saleh al-Arouri. Hamas also released a video of Arouri describing him as a “martyr”, apparently confirming his death.
Lebanese state media alleged that an Israeli drone struck Hamas’s political office in southern Beirut — a Hizbollah stronghold — killing at least six people and wounding about a dozen others. It also said Palestinian factions had been meeting in the building that was hit.
Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati condemned the strike and called it “a new Israeli crime”.
If the Israeli strike is confirmed, it would mark the first targeted attack against a Hamas leader outside of Palestinian territories by the Jewish state since the militant group’s October 7 assault.
The strike and Arouri’s death would heighten tensions across the region and risk a further escalation between Iranian-backed Hizbollah and Israel, which have traded almost daily exchanges of fire since October 7.
A veteran member of Hamas, al-Arouri helped establish the group’s military wing in the occupied West Bank.
Israel did not immediately comment on the alleged drone strike. It usually neither confirms nor denies accusations that it has carried out an assassination.
But in the wake of the October 7 attack Israeli leaders and security chiefs have said no Hamas leader would be safe, both inside and outside the Palestinian territories.
Following the reports, Israel’s far-right finance minister Bezalel Smotrich tweeted that all the country’s enemies “will perish”.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas and eradicate it from the Gaza Strip since the Islamist group’s October 7 attack on southern Israel killed about 1,200 people. The militants also seized about 240 hostages, more than 100 of whom are still held in the besieged strip.
Israel responded to the attack by launching a ferocious air and land offensive on Gaza, which has killed more than 22,000 people, according to Palestinian health officials.
The war has sparked fears that it risks triggering a broader regional conflagration, drawing in Iranian-backed militant groups across the Middle East.
The main concern has been that a full-blown conflict would erupt between Israel and Hizbollah, which fought a 34-day war in 2006.
So far, border clashes between Hizbollah fighters and Israeli forces have been contained within agreed red lines. But diplomats have warned that an miscalculation or a mistake could trigger a wider conflict.
Hizbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah was scheduled to speak tomorrow, in what would be his third public address since October 7. Hamas has political offices in Beirut and Doha.