One of the most wanted Palestinian terrorists, believed by Israeli intelligence to have planned the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in the summer of 2014, has moved to Lebanon after being expelled last month from Qatar.
Lebanese terror group Hezbollah is hosting Saleh al-Arouri in its Dahieh stronghold in southern Beirut, Channel 2 news reported Monday.
Citing unnamed Palestinian sources, the television station said that Arouri and two other senior Hamas figures have relocated to the Hezbollah-dominated neighborhood in the Lebanese capital, an area heavily protected with checkpoints on every access road.
On June 5, Palestinian sources confirmed that Qatar — which is embroiled in a boycott by Saudi Arabia and four other Arab states — had asked several top Hamas officials to leave for Lebanon, Turkey and Malaysia.
A few days later, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman charged that Arouri had resettled in Lebanon, where he has been planning, along with two other activists, terror attacks against Israel.
During a meeting with visiting American UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Liberman alleged that Arouri has also been attempting “to boost the relationship between Hamas and Hezbollah,” the Shiite Lebanese militia, “under an Iranian umbrella, and with the assistance of the Revolutionary Guards and [its leader] Qassem Soleimani,” according to a Hebrew-language statement from the Defense Ministry.
Lebanon is a “sovereign country” that maintains high-level bilateral ties with the United States, Liberman said, urging Washington to pressure Lebanon into expelling the three Hamas activists.
In its report Monday, Channel 2 said that Arouri may have chosen Beirut because the list of countries willing to host him are now limited and he fears Israel may try to exact revenge for the murder of the teenagers.
On June 4, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt decided to cut ties with Qatar and force it out of an Arab coalition fighting in Yemen, claiming that it supported Iran and Islamist terrorism. Yemen joined the boycott a day later.
The list of Hamas officials Qatar has asked to leave its territory — reportedly gleaned from interrogations of Palestinian security prisoners in Israel — included Arouri, who is said to be the group’s military commander in the West Bank and the founder of the West Bank branch of its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
Arouri served several terms in Israeli jails, and was released in March 2010, as part of efforts to reach a larger prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit, an IDF corporal kidnapped by Hamas in 2006. Arouri went on to be involved in sewing up the deal that provided for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in return for the freeing of Shalit.
Israeli intelligence officials believe that Arouri helped plan the June 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens — Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel.
That event was followed by a sharp crackdown on Hamas operatives in the West Bank by Israel, to which Hamas responded with heavy rocket fire. The rocket fire was answered, in turn, by Israel’s launching of a major operation against Gaza, which turned into all-out war between Hamas and the Jewish state during that summer.
Qatari officials have reportedly apologized for having to expel Hamas officials, but said it came as a result of “external pressures.”