Tension, anger in Gaza and West Bank after Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri assassinated

Tension, anger in Gaza and West Bank after Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri assassinated
Israel's assassination in Beirut of senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri has been greeted angrily by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza

5 min read
West Bank
03 January, 2024
The streets of East Jerusalem were empty the day after the assassination of Saleh Arouri [Ibrahim Husseini/TNA]

Palestinians observed a general strike in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, on Wednesday in response to the assassination of Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut a day earlier. Israel is widely believed to be behind the strike in Beirut's southern suburb of Dahieh, which killed al-Arouri and several others. 

Palestinians viewed al-Arouri, whom Israel expelled from the West Bank in 2010, as a "moderate" in the Hamas echelons and one who kept channels open to other Palestinian factions. His assassination has been interpreted as Netanyahu's opportunity to declare victory to the Israeli public and a path to negotiate an exit from Gaza. 

"Arouri was a leader who sought to build national unity between Palestinians, and his assassination is a blow to all the Palestinian people," said a Ramallah woman in her twenties who didn't identify as a Hamas member. 

There is now a strong sense of suspense regarding how Hamas and Hezbollah could react.

In East Jerusalem, the mood was sombre. Many businesses and schools were shut, and the streets were more empty than usual. 

"For sure the hearts of Jerusalemites are with Hamas and the resistance and ache for what is happening to the civilians in Gaza and see no way to get rid of the occupation and the present situation other than resistance", East Jerusalem resident Azzam Abu Su'oud told The New Arab

Hamas has gained in popularity in the West Bank ever since Israel's brutal war on Gaza began on October 7, and al-Arouri's killing has only reinforced it. 

"The Palestinian street impatiently awaits the reaction from Hezbollah. It is expected to be a joint reaction from Hamas and Hezbollah," Abu Su'oud added.

Transportation between West Bank cities was paralysed as commercial activity and government offices heeded a call for a day of mourning. 

The first official reaction to al-Arouri's assassination came from the Fatah movement, which dominates the Palestinian Authority and has clashed with Hamas in the past.

Fatah senior member Jibril Rajoub said that al-Arouri was "a model of resilience in the occupation's prisons and a seed of national unity".

Rajoub, who once shared a cell in an Israeli prison with al-Arouri, later negotiated with him in internal Palestinian dialogues aimed at achieving unity after Hamas and Fatah fought a conflict in Gaza in 2007, which ended with Hamas taking over the Palestinian territory.

Rajoub described al-Arouri's death as "a loss to the Palestinian national liberation movement as a whole, before being a loss to Hamas". 

Al-Arouri was the deputy chief of Hamas's politburo and its leader in the West Bank. It is argued that he founded Hamas' armed wing's branch in the West Bank in 1991. He served 15 years in Israeli jails. Upon his release in 2010, Israel exiled al-Arouri, forcing him to leave for Syria.

He alternated residency between Turkey, Qatar, Malaysia, and, finally, Lebanon, where a drone strike killed him. 

Israeli soldiers frisk a young Palestinian man in occupied East Jerusalem as Palestinians declared a day of mourning after the killing of Saleh Arouri. Ibrahim Husseini/TNA 03.01.2024
Israeli soldiers frisk a young Palestinian man in occupied East Jerusalem's Damascus Gate as Palestinians declared a day of mourning after the killing of Saleh Arouri. Ibrahim Husseini/TNA 03.01.2024

'Beginning of the end'

In the Gaza Strip, some people saw the killing of the Hamas leader as a desperate attempt by the Israeli leadership to compensate for the stalling of a ruthless military campaign now in its third month. 

Bashir Al-Rayes, from Khan Younis, said that "the assassination of al-Arouri may be the beginning of the end of the war in Gaza after Israel failed to assassinate any of the main Hamas leaders in Gaza".

 "[Israel] has returned to a policy of assassinations against Palestinian leaders, but it has forgotten that the Palestinian issue does not end with the killing of leaders, but rather takes root and remains present in the minds of all Palestinians," he added. 

Mohammed Salha, originally from Gaza Cityis currently displaced and living in Rafah city near the border with Egypt.

"The Palestinian resistance will remain as long as the occupation exists on the Palestinian lands, and none of Israel's leaders will be able to eliminate the Palestinian presence and entity, no matter how long it takes," he told The New Arab.

Israeli approval

The mood in Israel varied from praise for a well-executed operation to scepticism and worry about escalating the war and the fate of over 120 hostages who remain in captivity in the Gaza Strip. 

Still, for many Israelis, the assassination of Arouri not only fulfils a much-repeated promise made by government officials to eliminate Hamas leaders wherever they are, but also strengthens the conviction that killing or capturing Hamas's Gaza chief, Yahya al-Sinwar, is a likely prospect.

"The world is a better one without al-Arouri; it is not necessarily a safer one, especially in the near future. A smaller minority, including myself, have reacted by expressing scepticism about the utility of such assassinations, noting that everyone has a replacement," Israeli political analyst Yonatan Tuval told TNA

On the other hand, Ofer Cassif, a member of the Israeli Knesset from the leftist Hadash movement posted on X criticising the assassination. 

 "The crazy government is dragging us into an all-out regional war that will cost us a lot of blood. And it sacrifices the kidnapped without hesitation. A government of horrors that will be remembered forever," he said.

Following the assassination, Israel's army spokesperson said the military is at a" very high level of readiness, in all arenas, defence and offence", strongly signalling that a response from Southern Lebanon is expected.