Saleh al-Arouri, deputy chief of Hamas’s political bureau and a founder of the Qassam Brigades, has been killed in an Israeli drone strike in Beirut’s southern suburb of Dahiyeh. The Israeli military has not officially claimed responsibility for the assassination.

Arouri’s assassination marks the initiation of a campaign by Israel to kill leaders of Palestinian resistance groups in the occupied Palestinian territories and overseas. Al-Arouri, who joined Hamas after the first intifada, played a crucial role in the creation of the Izz al-Din al-Qassem brigades.

Hezbollah condemned Arouri’s assassination, vowing to retaliate and seeking punishment for those responsible.

Arouri was arrested by Israel in 1992. He spent almost 18 years in prison, only to emerge as a key figure within the Palestinian resistance organisation. In 2010, Arouri negotiated the release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for an Israeli soldier who had been kidnapped. Operating in Syria, Qatar, and Lebanon, he expanded Hamas networks and influence in the West Bank, engaging in negotiations with rival faction Fatah.

Elected as the deputy to Ismail Haniyeh in 2017, Arouri became a high-profile emissary for Hamas, involved in major political decisions.

Arouri recently met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to strategise against Israel. He also played a crucial role in talks facilitated by Qatar, leading to the release of some of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously signalled that Hamas leaders, including Deputy Chief Arouri, were targets for assassination. A leaked recording in early December exposed Ronen Bar, head of Shin Bet, stating that Hamas leaders would be targeted “in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Lebanon, in Turkey, in Qatar, everywhere.”

In its ongoing war on Gaza, Israel has killed over 22,313 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and wounded 57,296 since 7 October.