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Israeli-Hamas war: Israel ready ‘for any scenario’ after strike kills Hamas deputy in Lebanon

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Israel kept bombing Gaza on Wednesday after the army warned it is ready for “any scenario” following a drone strike in Lebanon which killed the deputy leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, stoking fears of a regional escalation.

Although Israel did not claim the Beirut assassination on Tuesday evening, it was widely assumed to be behind the killing of Saleh al-Aruri, 57, the political number two of its enemy Hamas and one of the founders of the Islamist group’s military wing.

After Aruri and six other militants were killed in the attack, Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said the military was in a “very high state of readiness in all arenas” and “highly prepared for any scenario”.

The Israeli armed forces again bombed Gaza targets overnight, including in the crowded southern city of Rafah where eyewitnesses said survivors flocked to Al-Najjar Hospital to mourn the dead, including a child.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas after the militant group’s bloody October 7 attack and has launched a relentless military campaign in Gaza that has claimed over 22,000 lives, according to the territory’s health ministry.

Israel has labelled Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar a “dead man walking” and vowed to also kill other commanders of the Islamist movement considered a “terrorist” group by the United States and European Union.Amid the almost three-month-old war, Israel has traded almost daily cross-border fire with the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed ally of Hamas, while so far avoiding a full-scale war.Maha Yahya of think tank the Carnegie Middle East Center told that Aruri’s killing was “a significant escalation” but added: “I don’t think Hezbollah will be willing to drag Lebanon into a major conflict at this particular moment and time given the situation regionally”.

Violence has also flared with other militant groups in the Iran-led “Axis of Resistance”, including in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, where Huthi rebels have attacked cargo vessels in the Red Sea, a key shipping lane for world trade.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian condemned the “cowardly” Beirut strike and said it proved that Israel “has not achieved any of its goals after weeks of war crimes, genocide and destruction in Gaza and the West Bank of Palestine, despite the direct support of the White House”.

– ‘Dangerous development’ –

Hezbollah vowed Aruri’s killing would not go unpunished and labelled it “a serious assault on Lebanon… and a dangerous development”.

The Shiite Muslim group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, who has lived in hiding for years, was due to deliver a televised address on Wednesday evening.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati charged that the killing “aims to draw Lebanon” deeper into the war, while French President Emmanuel Macron urged Israel to “avoid any escalatory attitude, particularly in Lebanon”.

In the Israel-occupied West Bank — the Palestinian territory where Aruri was born, and which has seen an upsurge in violence since October 7 — the Palestinian Authority called a general strike to mourn his death.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh also condemned the killing and warned of its “risks and consequences”.

The Gaza war started after the Hamas attack on Israel killed around 1,140 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Militants also took around 250 hostages back to Hamas-ruled Gaza, 129 of whom remain in captivity, according to Israeli figures.

In response to deadliest attack in its history, Israel launched a relentless offensive on Gaza that has reduced vast swathes of the territory to rubble.

Most of its 2.4 million people have been displaced and forced south, where many now live in crowded shelters and tents.

UN agencies have warned of a spiralling humanitarian crisis. But the war has raged unabated despite efforts towards a new ceasefire like the week-long truce in late November that allowed the release of more than 100 hostages.

– ‘We both now have nothing’ –

Another strike, on the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza on Tuesday, again saw Palestinians rush to rescue victims and retrieve bodies from the rubble.

“There are about 12 martyrs so far, mostly children,” said bereaved resident Ghazi Darwish. “What was their fault? Among them my one-month-old son, what did he do to Israel? My other son is five years old, he was also martyred.”

Further south in Khan Yunis, the Palestinian Red Crescent said Israel had twice struck its headquarters, killing five people, on Tuesday.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, deplored the strikes as “unconscionable” and said “Gaza’s health system is already on its knees”.

Israelis have meanwhile expressed deep concern for the remaining hostages inside Gaza, who are believed to be held in tunnels amid the ongoing combat and bombardment.

One former hostage, Ruti Munder, 78, from the Nir Oz kibbutz that was devastated in the Hamas attack, reflected on her 50 days in captivity in The New York Times.

She recounted how Hamas gunmen killed her son and kidnapped her along with her daughter, grandson and her husband, who remains missing.

Inside Gaza, Munder wrote, she was kept “in a small room on the second floor of a hospital”, guarded by a man who had told her that, without Hamas, “he would have had no money or opportunities”.

“The bitter irony is that because of Hamas, we both now have nothing,” she wrote, adding: “I hope our two peoples can finally live in peace, side by side. And I know that if Hamas remains in power, that will never happen.”



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