Senior Hamas leader killed in Beirut blast

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A senior Hamas leader was killed in an explosion at one of the Palestinian militant group's offices in Beirut, which Lebanon blamed on an Israeli drone strike.

Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militant group, told the Financial Times that one of the dead was Saleh al-Aruri, Hamas's deputy political chief. Hamas also released a video describing Aruri as a “martyr”, confirming his death.

In a statement, Hamas accused Israel of “cowardly massacres” against its leaders, without naming Aruri, but said it “will not succeed in breaking the will and determination of our people”.

Lebanese state media blamed an Israeli drone strike on a Hamas office in Hezbollah's stronghold of south Beirut – killing at least six people and injuring a dozen others. It also said Palestinian factions were meeting in the building that was attacked.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned the strike as “a new Israeli crime”.

If the Israeli attack is confirmed, it would mark the first targeted attack by the Jewish state against the Hamas leader outside the Palestinian territories since the militant group's deadly attack on southern Israel.

The strike and Aruri's death risk further escalating tensions across the Middle East and between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel. These have been trading highs almost daily since October 7.

Arouri, a senior member of Hamas, helped establish the group's military wing in the occupied West Bank. He had close ties to Hezbollah.

“The assassination of Aruri in the heart of Hezbollah's enclave in Beirut is a shame and a major test for Hezbollah,” said Emily Hokayem, regional security director for International Strategic Studies, a think tank. “Would it risk a major war against a non-Lebanese commander? If not, could Hezbollah maintain the credibility of its deterrence?”

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Saleh al-Aruri was the deputy political leader of Hamas © Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

Israel did not immediately comment on the alleged drone strike. It generally neither confirms nor denies allegations of a massacre.

But in the wake of the October 7 attack, Israeli leaders and security chiefs have said that no Hamas leader will be safe inside or outside the Palestinian territories.

Following the blast in Beirut, Israel's far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smodrich tweeted that all the country's enemies would “perish.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas and eliminate it from the Gaza Strip after the October 7 attacks that killed around 1,200 people. The militants also captured around 240 hostages, of whom more than 100 are still being held in the besieged area.

According to Palestinian officials, Israel retaliated with a heavy air and ground attack on Gaza that killed more than 22,000 people.

It has also made clear its determination to kill or capture Hamas's leadership in Gaza, including Yahya Shinwar, who is believed to have masterminded the October 7 attack.

However, Israel has been secretly negotiating with the exiled Hamas political leadership from Qatar to secure a deal to release the hostages.

Qatar, in coordination with the United States and Egypt, submitted a broad “framework” to Israel and Hamas last week to discuss a long-term ceasefire, secure the release of all hostages, and persuade the warring parties. Delivering humanitarian aid within the strip, a diplomat told the FT.

That process is likely to be derailed by the bombings in Beirut.

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Israel has carried out targeted assassinations against militant leaders in Europe and the Middle East for decades, including airstrikes, commando raids and spying groups using poison.

Israeli leaders pride themselves on the long arm of their security and intelligence services, but analysts have questioned the strategic effectiveness of their operations.

The Beirut bombings will draw pro-Iran groups across the Middle East and stoke fears of a war that could spark a wider conflict. The main focus is on the full-scale conflict that erupted between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, which led to the 34-day war.

So far, border clashes between Hezbollah fighters and Israeli forces have been contained within agreed red lines, but diplomats have warned that a miscalculation or mistake could widen the conflict.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was scheduled to speak on Wednesday, in what would be his third public address since October 7. He had previously said he would react to the assassination of a Palestinian, Iranian or Arab figure inside Lebanon.

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