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Hamas says Israel strike in Lebanon kills its deputy chief

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Beirut, Lebanon – Israel’s war against Palestinian militants reached Lebanon on Tuesday, where an Israeli strike killed Hamas’s deputy leader, the group and security officials in Lebanon said.

A high-level security official told AFP that Saleh al-Aruri was killed along with his bodyguards in the strike by Israel, which vowed to destroy Hamas after the movement’s unprecedented October 7 attacks on Israel.

Israel has previously announced the killing in Gaza of Hamas commanders and officials during the war, but Aruri is the most high-profile figure to be killed, and his death came in the first strike on the Lebanese capital since hostilities began.

Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari did not directly comment on Aruri’s killing but said the military is “highly prepared for any scenario” in its aftermath.

A second security official in Lebanon confirmed the information about Aruri’s killing.

Lebanese state media reported the strike hit a Hamas office in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a stronghold of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, a Hamas ally.

Hamas TV said Israel had killed Aruri in Lebanon, and Lebanese media said a total of seven people were killed in the attack by an Israeli drone.

The strike adds to widespread regional fears that the nearly three-month-old Israeli-Hamas war could become a wider conflagration.

Hamas said the killing will not lead to its defeat, while Hezbollah vowed Aruri’s death will not go “unpunished”. Hezbollah called it “a serious assault on Lebanon… and a dangerous development in the course of the war.”

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned the killing and said it “aims to draw Lebanon” further into the Israel-Hamas war.

The attack on October 7 resulted in the death of around 1,140 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on latest official Israeli figures.

The Hamas militants, whose movement has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, also took around 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in captivity, according to Israeli figures.

– Red Crescent struck –

After the worst attack in its history, Israel began a relentless bombardment and ground offensive that has killed at least 22,185 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

On Tuesday, Israel’s army said soldiers in Gaza had killed “dozens of terrorists”, including some carrying explosives. It said they also raided a weapons storage compound in the southern city of Khan Yunis and discovered long-range rocket launchers and tunnels.

Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry said 70 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in the previous 24 hours during Israeli raids.

In Khan Yunis, Israel twice struck the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) headquarters, PRCS said, resulting in “five casualties and three injuries” among displaced people who had sought refuge there and at a nearby hospital.

“They told us to go to the south that is safe, but they are liars,” shouted Fathi al-Af, pointing to his daughter on a stretcher on the floor of Nasser Hospital after the Red Crescent strike. “The entire Gaza Strip is not safe.”

United Nations agencies have voiced alarm over Gaza’s spiralling humanitarian crisis that has left 2.4 million people under siege, most of them displaced and crowded into shelters and tents during winter rain.

The World Health Organization has warned of the risk of famine, and disease, with only a minimal amount of aid entering.

On Tuesday the UK said a British ship had delivered the first 87 tonnes of aid for Gaza, including thousands of thermal blankets, to Egypt from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus which proposed the maritime corridor initiative.

“Hamas people are hiding in their houses and the tunnels, while we don’t find food or drink and are dying of cold. I have an infant, I can’t get him diapers or baby formula,” said Wojud Kamal al-Shinbary, who like many Gazans made her way to Rafah, in Gaza’s far south.

– Accused mastermind –

The Israeli army says 173 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza fighting Hamas, which is listed as a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States.

In early December, after a week-long truce that saw Israeli hostages freed in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, Aruri said there would be no more releases without a permanent ceasefire.

“The price to pay for the release of Zionist prisoners will be the release of all our prisoners -– after a ceasefire,” he said.

Aruri, who lived in exile, is accused by Israel of masterminding numerous attacks. He was elected deputy to Haniyeh in 2017, before being officially named the group’s number two.

In October the Israeli army demolished Aruri’s home in the occupied West Bank.

After the death of his deputy, Haniyeh said that a movement “whose leaders fall as martyrs for the dignity of our people and our nation will never be defeated.”

– ‘Dangerous development’ –

In the West Bank, violence since October 7 has surged to a level unseen in nearly two decades. At least 321 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops and settlers since the Gaza war began, according to the Ramallah-based Palestinian health ministry.

AFPTV images showed scores of people in the streets of Ramallah to protest Aruri’s killing, which Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh condemned.

Shtayyeh also warned about the “risks and consequences that could follow”, his office said.

The war has also led to almost daily exchanges of fire on the border with Lebanon between Israel’s army and Hezbollah.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels have also launched attacks at Israel and against cargo ships in the Red Sea, where the US military has assembled a multinational taskforce to protect the vital shipping lane.

Turkey, whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has harshly criticised Netanyahu over the war, announced the detention of 34 people suspected of planning abductions and spying on behalf of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service.

Erdogan weeks ago warned of “serious consequences” should Israel attempt to target Hamas figures living or working in Turkey.

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