BEIRUT — An apparent Israeli strike in the Lebanese capital of Beirut killed Hamas’ No. 2 political leader Tuesday, marking a potentially significant escalation of Israel’s war against the militant group and heightening the risk of a wider Middle East conflict.
Saleh Arouri, who was the most senior Hamas figure killed since the war with Israel began, was also a founder of the group’s military wing. His death could provoke major retaliation by Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah militia.
The strike hit an apartment in a building in a Shiite district of Beirut that is a Hezbollah stronghold, and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to strike back against any Israeli targeting of Palestinian officials in Lebanon.
Hezbollah and the Israeli military have been exchanging fire almost daily over the Israeli-Lebanese border since Israel’s military campaign in Gaza began nearly three months ago. But so far the Lebanese group has appeared reluctant to dramatically escalate the fighting. A significant response now could send the conflict spiraling into all-out war on Israel’s northern border.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said the strike was carried out by an Israeli drone, and Israeli officials declined to comment. Speaking to reporters, Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari did not directly mention Arouri’s death but said, “We are focused and remain focused on fighting against Hamas.”