Saturday, February 24, 2024

Hamas leader's killing raises fears of wider war, Israel keeps up Gaza bombardment

Hamas leader's killing raises fears of wider war, Israel keeps up Gaza bombardment
January 3, 2024 Web Desk

BEIRUT/GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli forces kept up their assault on the Gaza Strip on Wednesday and told civilians to leave a refugee camp in the north of the Palestinian enclave after the war reached into Lebanon with the killing in Beirut of the Hamas deputy leader.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that it killed Saleh al-Arouri in a drone strike in the Lebanese capital on Tuesday. But military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said Israeli forces were in a high state of readiness and prepared for any scenario.

The assassination was a further sign that the nearly three-month war between Israel and Hamas was spreading across the region, drawing in the occupied West Bank, Hezbollah forces on the Lebanon-Israel border, and even Red Sea shipping lanes.

Arouri, 57, who lived in Beirut, was the first senior Hamas political leader to be assassinated since Israel began its offensive against the militant group in response to its deadly rampage into Israeli towns on Oct. 7. Hamas politburo member Hossam Badran said in a eulogy for Arouri: "We say to the criminal occupation (Israel) that the battle between us is open."

Israel had long accused him of orchestrating attacks on its citizens. But a Hamas official said he was also "at the heart of negotiations" conducted by Qatar and Egypt over the outcome of the Gaza war and the release of Hamas-held Israeli hostages.

Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah was due to make a speech in Beirut later on Wednesday. Previously he had warned Israel against carrying out assassinations on Lebanese soil, vowing a "severe reaction".

The heavily armed Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, has been exchanging near-daily fire with Israel across Lebanon's southern border since the Gaza war began. More than 100 Hezbollah fighters and two dozen civilians have been killed on Lebanese territory, as well as at least nine Israeli soldiers in Israel. Following Arouri's killing, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon said any escalation "could have devastating consequences for people on both sides of the border".

In Cairo, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told a delegation from the U.S. Congress that the priority was to secure a ceasefire in Gaza. Sisi stressed the need to prevent the conflict from widening across the region, a presidency statement said.