An Israeli drone strike hit a Hamas office in Beirut on Tuesday, killing at least six people, including a senior Hamas official, Lebanese media has reported.
A US official told The Washington Post that Israel was responsible for the strike that killed Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy chief of Hamas’s political bureau. The Israeli attack on the Lebanese capital marks a huge escalation and could provoke a major war.
Hamas has confirmed that al-Arouri was killed and released a statement on his assassination. “The cowardly assassinations carried out by the Zionist occupation against the leaders and symbols of our Palestinian people inside and outside Palestine will not succeed in breaking the will and steadfastness of our people or in undermining the continuation of their valiant resistance,” Hamas said.
Al-Arouri was involved in hostage negotiations and, according to The Times of Israel, was “instrumental” in reaching the Qatar-mediated deal that led to the release of over 100 Israeli hostages and over 200 Palestinians.
So far, Israel has not officially taken credit for the attack, but Israeli officials are often ambiguous about their operations in neighboring countries. If confirmed, the drone strike would mark the first Israeli attack on Beirut since the 2006 Lebanon War.
Israel and Hezbollah have been trading fire across the Israel-Lebanon border since October 7. Lately, Israeli officials have been threatening more military action and hinting at an invasion of southern Lebanon if Hezbollah doesn’t move back from the border.
In November, Axios reported that US officials were worried Israel was trying to provoke Hezbollah as a pretext for a wider war in Lebanon that could draw the US into the conflict. Hezbollah has said the Israeli drone strike in Beirut “will not go unanswered or without punishment,” and the Lebanese group continues to launch attacks on northern Israel.