Hamas confirmed the assassination of their leader, Saleh Al-Arouri, in an Israeli strike in the southern suburb of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, on Tuesday evening, along with two commanders from the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.
A member of the Hamas political bureau, Izzat Al-Rishq, described the operation as “a cowardly assassination carried out by the Zionist Occupation against the leaders and symbols of our Palestinian nation.”
The Movement said that the attack in the southern suburb also led to the martyrdom of two Qassam Brigades commanders, identified as Azzam Al-Aqraa and Samir Fandi.
According to the Lebanese News Agency, the strike carried out by an Israeli drone targeting an office belonging to the Hamas Movement in the southern suburb of Beirut resulted in the death of 6 people and the injury of 11 others.
Israel has a long history of assassinating Palestinian leaders outside the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Who is Saleh Al-Arouri?
Reports indicate that Al-Arouri’s role in the Hamas Movement has become more prominent than simply holding the position of deputy head of the Movement’s political bureau.
In addition to continuing to play a role in the Al-Qassam Brigades, Al-Arouri spent years helping to rebuild the Palestinian Resistance in the Occupied West Bank, according to the claims of the Israeli occupation authorities.
According to reports, Al-Arouri worked as a key assistant to Ismail Haniyeh, especially regarding political communication operations between the Movement, Iran and Hezbollah.
Al-Arouri was born in the town of Aroura, located near the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, in 1966. He became a key factor in resistance activities in the mid-eighties at Hebron University, where he studied Islamic law.
He joined the Muslim Brotherhood at an early age and, in 1985, he led the Islamic student activities at Hebron University.
Security officials in Israel and the US claim that Al-Arouri joined Hamas shortly after its formation in late 1987 at the beginning of the first Palestinian Intifada.
They also claim that Al-Arouri quickly graduated from being a leader of a student bloc on campus to founding the Qassam Brigades.
The Israeli Occupation authorities detained and imprisoned Al-Arouri three times, although he continued his activities with Hamas even while in Israel’s Ashkelon prison.
During the period between 1990 and 1992, the Israeli army administratively detained Al-Arouri (without trial) for limited periods, given his activity in the Hamas Movement.
Al-Arouri is considered one of the founders of the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas Movement. He began establishing the core of the Movement’s military wing in the West Bank between 1991 and 1992.
In 1992, the Israeli army arrested Al-Arouri again and sentenced him to 15 years in prison on charges of forming the first cells of the Al-Qassam Brigades in the West Bank.
Al-Arouri was released in 2007, but Israel arrested him, once again, three months later for 3 years (until 2010), when the Israeli Supreme Court decided to release him and deport him outside Palestine.
In 2003, the US Department of Justice classified Al-Arouri as a “conspirator in a case related to terrorism financing,” due to his association with three Hamas activists in Chicago.
Al-Arouri was described in the indictment as “a high-ranking military commander in Hamas who received tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for military activities, including the purchase of weapons.”
Following his release in 2010, Al-Arouri was chosen as a member of the political bureau of the Hamas Movement.
After his release, Al-Arouri was forced to move to the Syrian capital, Damascus, to join the Hamas leadership in exile there.
Al-Arouri was one of the members of the Hamas negotiating team working to reach the prisoner exchange deal in 2011 with Israel through Egyptian mediation, which Hamas called the Wafa Al-Ahrar (Faithful to the free) deal.
With the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011, Al-Arouri moved again and spent some time in Turkiye.
In 2014, Al-Arouri announced that Hamas was responsible for the June 2014 attack that included the capture and killing of Israelis in the West Bank, one of whom was an American-Israeli citizen.
In September 2015, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Al-Arouri, claiming that he served as a major financier and financial facilitator for Hamas military cells.
American documents related to this say that Al-Arouri managed Hamas’s military operations in the West Bank.
On 9 October, 2017, Hamas announced the election of Al-Arouri as deputy head of the Movement’s political bureau.
Al-Arouri then moved to Lebanon, where he played an active role in healing the rift in the relations between Hamas and Iran due to the revolution in Syria. He also began to establish closer relations with Hezbollah.
In November 2018, the US State Department offered a reward of up to $5 million for information about Al-Arouri.
The US State Department said, at the time, that Al-Arouri is currently living freely in Lebanon, where he is said to be working with the Commander of the Iranian Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani.
Israeli reports claim that Al-Arouri was the most prominent contender to Yahya Al-Sinwar for the leadership of Hamas, and the Israeli authorities hold him responsible for Al-Qassam operations against Israel from Lebanon and Syria, including the firing of rockets.
Israel claims that Al-Arouri was the main promotor of close coordination between Hezbollah and Hamas and pushed for the implementation of joint operations against the Israeli Occupation.
Al-Arouri was subjected to a constant campaign of incitement in recent years in the Israeli media, which amounted to public calls for his assassination, especially with the escalation of Palestinian operations against the Occupation in the Occupied West Bank.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arab48 on 2 January, 2024.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.